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Contributors and affiliations

Dr. Timothy C. APPLETON

Independent Fertility Counsellor, Affiliate Lecturer Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology,
Cambridge University, United Kingdom

Mrs. Patricia BAETENS

Psychologist, Centre for Reproductive Medicine, Academic Hospital, Dutch-speaking Free

University of Brussels, Brussels, Belgium

Mrs. Judith BARON

Counsellor, Midland Fertility Services, Birmingham, United Kingdom

Prof. Dr. Johannes BITZER

Gynaecologist and Psychotherapist, University Frauenklinik, Lausanne, Switzerland

Dr. Jacky BOIVIN

Psychologist and Lecturer, School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom

Mrs. Elizabeth CORRIGAN

Business manager and Nursing director, Centre for Reproductive Medicine, University of Bris-
tol, Bristol, United Kingdom


Sociologist and Associate Professor, Department of Social Work, University of Canterbury,
Christchurch, New Zealand

Dipl.-Psych. Joelle DARWISH

Psychologist and Psychotherapist, Service de Psychiatrie de Liaison, Centre Hospitalier
Universitaire Vaudois, Lausanne, Switzerland


Psychologist, Servicio Medicina Psicosomatica, Instituto Universitario Dexeus, Barcelona, Spain

Mrs. Margaretha HAMMAR

Nurse, Fertilitetscentrum, Carlanderska sjukhemmet, Gteberg, Sweden
Prof. Dr. Heribert KENTENICH
Gynecologist and Psychotherapist, DRK Frauenklinik, Berlin, Germany

Dr. Alexina McWHINNIE

Medical and Psychiatric Social Worker, Counsellor and Senior Research Fellow, University of
Dundee, Dundee, Scotland

Prof. Dr. B. STRAUSS

Psychologist and psychotherapist, Department of Medical Psychology, Friedrich-Schiller-Uni-
versity of Jena, Jena, Germany

Social Worker, Social Therapist, Family Therapist, in private practice, Moerfelden, Germany and
Affiliated Lecturer, Department of Social Work, Protestant University of Applied Sciences
Darmstadt, Germany

Dr. Dipl. Psych. Tewes WISCHMANN

Clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, Department of Medical Psychology, Heidelberg
University Hospital, Heidelberg, Germany

1 Introduction

2 Fundamental issues in counselling

2.1 Counselling within infertility

2.2 Who should counsel?

2.3 Who is likely to need counselling?

2.4 The role of the physician in counselling

3 Counselling in infertility treatment

4 Special questions in counselling

4.1 Pregnancy after infertility treatment

4.2 Multiple pregnancies

4.3 Facing the end of medical treatment

4.4 Sexuality

4.5 Patients in migration

5 Special topics (third-party reproduction)

5.1 Donor insemination

5.2 Oocyte donation

5.3 Embryo donation

5.4 Surrogacy

5.5 Adoption

5.6 Reproductive services with lesbian couples

5.7 Reproductive services with single women without partners

6 Additional types of psychosocial services

6.1 Written psychosocial information and telephone counselling

6.2 Self-help groups

6.3 Professionally facilitated group work

7 Summary
Heribert Kentenich

The desire for a child is a result of individual development. It does not exist from birth but

usually increases as time passes.

The wish for a child is not only a deeply felt need originating from individual instincts. It also

depends on:

the development of individual personality,

sociocultural processes,

economic factors,

individual biographical changes,


interpersonal processes between partners and

family dynamics.

These psychosocial factors moderate the wish for a child. If the wish is not fulfilled and an

infertility problem becomes apparent, this may result in a narcissistic wound that diminishes self-

confidence. Hopelessness may arise. The patients may express feelings of guilt. There may be

desperation and grief. The problem of infertility becomes a problem within the relationship of

the partners (Menning, 1980; Golombok, 1992; Mller & Fallstrm, 1991).

During the last two decades great advances have been made in the field of assisted reproductive

technology (ART). Treatments such as in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) and microinjection (ICSI) have

given new hope to many infertile patients.

There is a danger that the emotional impact of infertility is neglected and that the problem is

reduced to a biological or medical one.

However, in addition to the necessary medical procedures, one should also focus on the patients

psychosocial and emotional needs by

understanding childlessness,

giving information and ensuring it is processed,

implications counselling,

support counselling and/or

therapeutic counselling.

Caring for the emotional needs of the patient demands continuity and should not be treated as a

single event.

The information-giving and counselling of the patient takes place both in the general practice

and in the fertility clinic. The teams consist of more medically orientated members such as

nurses, doctors, biologists, embryologists and lab technicians, and of more psychosocially orien-

tated members such as counsellors, psychologists or psychiatrists. The individual processes and

interpersonal dynamics within the different groups in the team should be recognised.

These Guidelines have been set up in order to provide a framework for counselling in infertility.

We are aware that counselling is dependent upon the legal, ethical and cultural background of

every country. Therefore these Guidelines are not strict rules or fixed regulations. They are based

on the current best practice and are a proposal for a counselling framework as an official paper of

the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE).

<A>The specific characteristics of infertility consultations

The infertility consultation differs from other symptom- or disease-orientated consultations in

obstetrics and gynaecology through the following characteristics:

(a) The central focus of the consultation is an unfulfilled wish or goal in life. The result is that

counsellors are not dealing so much with the objective of finding a diagnosis but far more

with subjectively defined suffering determined by various personal and psychosocial


(b) The wish for a child aims to create a not-yet-existing third person who cannot be included

in the decision-making process and into the treatment. There are specific ethical issues

resulting from the absence of the third person. Some of the essential issues that must be

considered include the best interests of the child, the family environment into which the

child conceived by the use of assisted reproduction will be born and any possible contra-

dictions and conflicts between the wishes of the patients and the presumed interests of the


(c) The treatment of the unfulfilled wish for a child very frequently consists in a cycle of

repeated interventions which can be successful, but often are not. This long-lasting process

creates specific emotional stresses accompanied by disappointment and possible despera-


(d) Diagnostic procedures and medical treatment in infertility have an important impact on the

intimate life of the patients. Therefore, the couples relationship dynamics, sexuality,

ability to cope with the psychological and emotional effects caused by this process must be

considered in addition to the course of treatment and future treatment options.


Golombok, S. (1992). Psychological functioning in infertility patients. Hum. Reprod., 7, 208


Menning, B. E. (1980). The emotional needs of infertile couples. Fertil. Steril., 34, 313319.

Mller, A. and Fllstrm, K. (1991). Psychological consequences of infertility. A longitudinal

study. J. Psychosom. Obstet. Gynecol., 12, 2745.
Bernhard Strauss and Jacky Boivin


A person suffering from infertility will face complex issues which span biological, psychologi-

cal, social and ethical domains. Discussion of these issues in a counselling context is often

beneficial for patients.

<B>Definition of counselling

Counselling is a notoriously imprecise term, used to describe a wide range of functions and

performed by an equally wide range of individuals (Blyth, 1995). A formal definition of coun-

selling would be that it was an interpersonal process, based on a theoretical framework, which

[was] used to bring about change in a skilled and systematic way (K.R. Daniels, personal com-

munication). However, counselling with infertile individuals is often also about support and the

clarification of life goals. Thus counselling definitions which focus on counselling as a context

for support, advice and guidance rather than as a vehicle for change (Applegarth, 1999, p. 89) or

as a place where individuals can be given an opportunity to explore, discover and clarify ways

of living more satisfyingly and resourcefully (British Association of Infertility Counsellors,

1999) also describe the type of counselling used with infertile people. Regardless of the precise

definition the term counselling as used in these Guidelines is considered to be an entity which

requires professional qualification and which differs from patient-centered care.

<B>Differentiating counselling from patient-centered care

Patient-centered care is the psychosocial care provided as part of routine services in the clinic. It

is an approach to care which is expected from all members of the medical team at all times.

Patient-centered care aims to facilitate communication processes between staff and patients and

aims to ensure that the people being treated are understood as individuals and not only as bio-

logical entities. Patient-centered care is desirable and may provide a good basic relationship
from which the patient may then feel comfortable seeking support and/or initiating counselling.

In many countries (e.g., Germany, Switzerland) patient-centered care is more formally integrated

in medical treatment through the application of psychosomatic or psychosocial models which

propose that the person who treats (e.g., doctor, nurse) integrates both medical and emotional

care in their exchanges with patients (see for example, Bundesrztekammer, 1998). Such mod-

els propose further that professionals involved in primary medical treatment be qualified to

provide not only basic patient-centered care but also counselling and psychotherapeutic interven-

tions (e.g. Kemeter, 1988). Whilst individuals qualified to provide counselling can also provide

patient-centered care, the reverse is not necessarily true and professionals need to be mindful of

the limitations on their competence (see Section 2.2). The information in these Guidelines

discusses the psychological issues faced by infertile individuals and will be of use for both

patient-centered care and counselling.


The aims of counselling are to explore, understand and resolve issues arising from infertility and

infertility treatment and to clarify ways of dealing with the problem more effectively. The coun-

selling process should consider the needs of the patient and any other person who might be

affected by the treatment process and the decisions that have to be made. Counselling may have
different functions and/or goals depending on the life situation of the patient (e.g. married, single

or lesbian woman) and the treatment desired (e.g. embryo donation, surrogacy) (see specific

sections in Guidelines). Individuals may also seek counselling to help make decisions regarding

the continuation or termination of treatment. However, counselling will frequently address

issues outside of the treatment context. It may be used to discuss alternatives to parenthood such

as adoption (see section 5.5) or fostering and/or it may be used to identify ways of living a

meaningful and fulfilling life without children.

In the context of infertility medical procedures, the following tasks of counselling are commonly

distinguished (see for example Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, Code of Practice,

1998, part 6) although in practice these tasks will normally overlap:

information gathering and analysis,

implications and decision-making counselling,

support counselling and

therapeutic counselling.

<B>Information gathering and analysis and implications and decision-making counselling

Providing sufficient information about the medical aspects of the treatment is primarily the

responsibility of the medical doctor. However, patients consult counsellors (directly or as part of

a mandatory referral process) to obtain more information concerning the social and emotional

implications of the infertility treatment. It is often the task of the counsellor to help the indi-

vidual collate and make sense of all the information to be considered when making a decision

related to treatment and parenting options. Implications counselling aims to enable the person

or people concerned to understand the implications of the proposed course of action for them-

selves, for their family and for any children born as a result. Whilst medical information is the

domain of the physician mental health professionals should also have a good grasp of the medi-

cal issues involved.

Counselling which focuses on information and implications should assist the patient in making

decisions about the most appropriate course of action. It should be distinct from the more legal

concept of informed consent (see National Bioethics Consultative Committee, 1991). Implica-

tions counselling should focus on the specific meaning of any information to the individual and

highlight the consequences of treatment decisions including termination for every person

who is involved in the process. Implications counselling may be especially important in the

context of sperm and egg donation and surrogacy, but should be part of any other type of coun-

selling as well.
<B>Support counselling

Support counselling aims to give emotional support to patients experiencing distress. Distress

can be caused by the frustration of the desire for a child, social and family pressure as well as by

the reproductive technology employed and its limited success rate. Such distress motivates the

need for emotional support from many sources (such as family members, partner, support

groups). The treatment process will also provoke periods of particular distress that might in-

crease the need for support counselling. For example, during phases of intensive assessment,

waiting periods, failure to achieve pregnancy, decision conflicts with respect to treatment termi-
nation, the end of treatment and so on. While the provision of emotional support should be part

of any patient-centered care and treatment, support counselling should specifically focus on the

resources patients themselves have in coping with emotional (and physical) distress and on

working out new strategies of coping that might help in managing stressful situations. It is often

the case that patients need support once treatment has ended. That is, when the couple are no

longer patients at the clinic. Counselling services within clinics should therefore be developed in

such a way that couples continue to have access to professional help for issues which may arise

and/or persist after treatment has ended.

<B>Therapeutic counselling

Within infertility, there is often a natural progression from support counselling to therapeutic
counselling. Several models of therapeutic counselling have been developed over recent years

(e.g. Hammer Burns & Covington, 1999; Strauss, 2001) providing a wide variety of counselling

modalities (e.g. individual, couple or group) and intervention strategies.

Therapeutic counselling can focus on

reflection of individual problems and (family) history,

the acceptance of the situation,

the meaning and impact of infertility, including grief work,

work on alternative life and self-concepts for the future,

the development of coping strategies and strategies to minimise distress,

problem and conflict solving, and/or

specific issues such as sexual, marital and other interpersonal problems.

More general therapeutic counselling can comprise supportive, coping-orientated and problem-

solving strategies (Strauss, 2001). The theoretical framework of the counselling models de-

scribed in the literature to date varies, including psychodynamic psychotherapy, cognitive-

behavioural techniques, solution-focused psychotherapy, crisis intervention and process-experi-

ential grief counselling (see Applegarth, 1999). Interventions based on these models can be

designed and applied wherever appropriate whether it be before, during or after treatment has


<A>Typical issues

Some of the main issues affecting the counselling process have been discussed. These were

defining counselling and differentiating patient-care from professional counselling. Issues

concerned with qualifications and who should offer counselling will be covered in the next

section (see section 2.2). Another issue is related to whether counselling should be mandatory or

voluntary. In most clinics patients are offered counselling without the obligation to attend.

Occasionally clinics use a mandatory process with patients being offered treatment only after

having had at least one counselling session. There are advantages and disadvantages to both
approaches. Mandatory counselling ensures that all patients have access to a professional serv-

ice with the opportunity to discuss their own personal circumstances and issues. However, the

fact that the service is mandatory may mean that patients are unwilling to discuss any issue

openly and/or that they feel suspicious about the true purpose of the session (i.e., support or

screening? see section 2.2). As a result the main topics discussed in mandatory counselling may

primarily relate to the processing of medical information and treatment implications rather than

emotional issues. Voluntary counselling may also give rise to worries concerning screening but

because the patient is the one to initiate counselling there is usually a greater willingness to

overcome these fears. Thus counselling with self-referred patients tends to focus more on the

emotional aspects of infertility and its treatment, especially issues causing current distress, then

on the medical aspects of treatment. However, it is noteworthy that patients rate the experience
of counselling as positive regardless of whether it is mandatory (Connolly et al., 1993) or volun-

tary (Stewart et al., 1992). It is the task of the counsellor to ensure that patients feel comfortable

during either type of counselling.

A related issue is the finding that few patients attend counselling when it is offered on a

voluntary basis. Patients have many reasons for not taking up offers of counselling and these

reasons differ as function of whether they are experiencing high distress or not. For example

many patients feel they can cope with the strains of infertility using the coping resources avail-

able to them (e.g., helpful family and friends) while others, especially those who experience

distress, may not use counselling because they feel unsure about how to get such help (e.g., who

to contact) (Boivin et al., 1999). Clinic staff need to recognise and respect patients strengths in

coping with this life event but also need to ensure that information concerning counselling is

easily and clearly available.

A final issue is the theoretical perspective which the counsellor adopts and its compatibility

with the patients needs. As noted previously, counsellors can adopt a variety of perspectives

(e.g., psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioural) to guide their work with infertile people. Difficul-

ties can arise when the counselling approach adopted by the counsellor is incompatible with the

needs or personality of the patient. This problem is of greater importance in medical settings

because patients tend to use the counsellors recommended by the clinics rather than find a coun-

sellor themselves. The clinic counsellor must therefore assess whether their approach is compat-

ible with the needs of the patient and if not, be able to refer patients to more a suitable alterna-


<A>Communication skills

Counselling according to the principles described above needs specific skills and qualifications.

These qualifications will be described in the following section (see Section 2.2).


Applegarth, L. D. (1999). Individual counselling and psychotherapy. Hammer Burns, L. and

Covington, S. N. (1999) (eds.). Infertility Counselling. A Comprehensive Handbook for

Clinicians (pp. 85102). Parthenon, London.

Boivin, J., Scanlan, L. and Walker, S. M. (1999). Why are infertile couples not using psychoso-

cial counselling? Hum. Reprod., 14, 13841391.

British Infertility Counselling Association: Journal of Fertility Counselling (Spring and Summer


Bundesrztekammer (1998): Richtlinien zur Durchfhrung der assistierten Reproduktion.

Deutsches rzteblatt 95: B 2454 - B 2459

Connolly,K.J., Edelmann,R.J., Bartlett,H., Cooke,I.D., Lenton,E. and Pike,S. (1993) An evalua-

tion of counselling for couples undergoing treatment for in-vitro fertilization. Human Reprod.,

8, 1332-1338.

Hammer Burns, L. and Covington, S. N. (1999) (eds.). Infertility Counselling. A Comprehensive

Handbook for Clinicians. Parthenon, London.

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) (1998). Code of Practice. London:


Kemeter, P. (1988). Studies on psychosomatic implications of infertility. Hum. Reprod., 3, 341


National Bioethics Consultative Committee (NBCC) (1991). Reproductive Technology

Counseling. Final Report for the Australian Health Ministers Conference.

Strauss, B. (2001) (ed.). Involuntary Childlessness. Psychological Assessment and Counselling.

Hogrefe, Seattle (in press).

Stewart,D.E., Boydell,K.M., McCarthy,K., Swedlyk,S., Redmond,C. and Cohrs,W. (1992) A

prospective study of the effectiveness of brief professionally-led support groups for infertility

patients. Int. J. Psychiatry Med., 22, 173-182.

Elizabeth Corrigan, Ken D. Daniels and Petra Thorn


To be in a position to provide counselling in a planned and skilled way, mental health profession-

als require training in therapy or counselling as well as an in-depth understanding of the psycho-

social and physical aspects of infertility. The qualifications needed in order to provide counsel-

ling to infertility patients vary from country to country in the European Union.

<A>Qualifications needed to offer counselling in infertility clinics

In some countries governmental recommendations describe who can act as a counsellor in fertil-

ity clinics. In the United Kingdom for example the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Au-

thority (1991) have taken a qualification-based approach. The Act recommended the minimum

qualifications required for a counsellor to be:

a certificate of qualification of Social Work or

an equivalent qualification recognised by the Central Council of Education and Training in

Social Work or

an accreditation by the British Association of Counsellors or

Chartered Psychologist status.

In other countries governmental regulations do not exist but professional societies which provide

guidelines for medical professionals in infertility clinics also provide guidance on the most

appropriate qualifications for counsellors working with infertile people. For example, the

American Society for Reproductive Medicine, through its Mental Health Professional Group

(Hammer Burns & Covington, 1999, appendix 2), recommends that the mental health profes-

sional should have:

a graduate degree in a mental health profession (e.g., psychology, social work)

a license to practice (i.e., registration, certification, chartered status)

training in the medical and psychological aspects of infertility

a minimum of one year of clinical experience

regular attendance at certified continuing education programmes

In other countries qualifications are determined by the working models adopted by medical

departments and thus describe qualifications for counsellors working in any field of medicine

and not just infertility. As described in the previous chapter countries which adhere to integrated

psychosomatic (or psychosocial) models for their approach to medical care (e.g., Germany)

incorporate psychological training in the curriculum of medical practitioners and/or ensure that

mental health professionals are integral to the multidisciplinary team treating the patient (see for

example, Bundesrztekammer, 1998).

A perusal of the infertility literature makes it clear that there is as yet no agreed set of

professional criteria for the mental health professional working with this patient group. How-

ever, at the least it would seem that counsellors should have professional training in mental

health and training the medical and psychosocial aspects of infertility.

<A>Typical issues concerning counselling in infertility clinics

<C>Should the counsellor be part of the medical infertility team or should s/he have an inde-
pendent position?

Being part of the team ensures that patients have easier access to counselling services as well as

facilitating interdisciplinary exchange. However, it must be decided within the team to what

extent information gained during counselling is disclosed to others within the team. Also, for the

sake of confidentiality, patients must be informed about this and be in agreement with it. Being

an independent counsellor working apart from the team makes it easier to see counselling as

a separate entity in coming to terms with infertility and makes it easier to convey confidentiality
to patients. It may limit what other staff can offer as patient centered care because they will have

less personal information about the patient available to them (see section 2.1).

<C>Should counsellors carry out assessment?

In some countries, assessment of suitability prior to treatment, especially prior to treatment with

donated gametes, is carried out. This assessment aims to ensure that the welfare of all parties

involved, especially the child to be born, is taken into account. There are controversies as to

whether the counsellor is the appropriate person to carry out this assessment. On the one hand,

the counsellor has the professional skills to perform such assessments; on the other hand, coun-

selling is considered a voluntary, open-ended process and patients tend to be less open if an

assessment is carried out.

Patients making use of counselling provided inside or outside an infertility clinic often have

concerns about the use of information disclosed within the entire treatment process. Even when

counselling and screening are clearly distinguished the expectation persists that the counsellor

might be involved in the selection process. If this is the case, the counselling process and the

establishment of a trusting relationship can be impaired; sometimes patients may even be pre-

vented from seeking help. However, it can also be the case that counsellors may be hindered in
fostering the patients autonomy and advocating the patients interests when assessment is distin-

guished from counselling.

Even if there is clear demarcation between sessions involving assessment/counselling and those

involving counselling, it might still be useful to focus on the dilemma and ask the patients to

express their concerns, fears and fantasies related to the consequences of counselling. If these

concerns can be assuaged, the patients should be encouraged to use the counselling session(s) by

openly discussing all relevant issues.

<C>Should other staff offer counselling?

There are medical and psychosocial issues to be considered in almost all options considered by

infertility patients. Medical implications must be considered with suitably trained medical,

nursing and scientific personnel. The psychosocial implications are best considered by those

providing counselling services (as described in the introduction to this section). While such a

distinction is helpful for the staff, patients frequently do not make such a distinction and all staff

may find themselves being asked to discuss both medical and psychosocial implications. This

practical reality is likely to require all staff to have a basic understanding of the psychosocial
issues related to infertility as well as basic communication skills with which they can help sup-

port the patient through the medical process (see section 2.1). It is vital, however, that all staff

recognise their limitations and seek to avoid discussing areas that are outside their competence:

for example, when implications counselling reveals psychological problems, patients should be

referred to the counsellor.

<C>Who should refer patients?

The question is whether all patients are referred to a counsellor, whether a specific group should

be referred or whether patients refer themselves. A minimum consensus would be to provide

access to counselling services to everybody, independent of the type of treatment and potential or

presenting psychological complaint (see Section 2.3). However, not all patients who might

benefit from counselling are willing to take up the offer presented to them. Consequently, medi-

cal personnel may sometimes need to play a more active role in presenting counselling as a

useful adjunct to the patients medical therapy.

<C>Should supervision be a requirement?

Many therapists and counsellors consider supervision helpful in order to avoid transference and

counter-transference issues, to provide for their professional development and to evaluate the

counselling process. Proof of regular supervision is also required by some professional bodies.

Some counsellors choose to work with infertility because of their personal experience of fertility

problems. These counsellors need to decide if and to what degree self-disclosure is appropriate

and helpful.
<C>How should counsellors be paid?

There are various methods of incorporating counselling into medical treatment and this also

affects payment for the counselling service. If the counselling service is included in the treatment

fee, it is most likely to facilitate access for a high number of patients. On the other hand, it makes

treatment more expensive for those patients who do not take advantage of the counselling serv-

ice. Independent counsellors usually charge a fee and this determines to some extent who can

access counselling, but it also guarantees high motivation on the part of the patients.

<C>Can the staff team benefit from consultation provided by counsellors?

It is not uncommon for professionals who deal with people in distress to benefit from consulta-

tive and support services. Counsellors can provide the opportunity for any individual staff mem-

ber in dealing with patients or difficult decisions to reflect on issues arising.

<A>Communication skills

Counsellors with professional training have a wide range of communication skills in planning,

carrying out and evaluating counselling processes. Other team staff will find it useful to have

basic communication skills in order to provide patient-centered care, to understand the psychoso-

cial aspect of infertility and to refer patients appropriately.


Blyth, E. (1995). Infertility and Assisted Conception. Practice Issues for Counsellors. British

Association of Social Workers, Birmingham.

British Infertility Counselling Association: Journal of Fertility Counselling (Spring 1999 and

Summer 1999).

Hammer-Burns, L. and Covington, S. N. (eds.) (1999) Infertility Counseling. A Comprehensive

Handbook for Clinicians. Parthenon, London and New York.

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 (1990). HMSO, London.

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (1991). Code of Practice. HFEA, London.

Kings Fund Committee (1991). The Report of the Kings Fund Centre Counselling Committee.

Counselling for Regulated Infertility Treatments. Kings Fund, London

Warnock Report (1984). Committee of Enquiry into Human Fertilisation and Embryology Re-

port. HMSO, London.

Jacky Boivin


Any patient can use professional counselling and all patients should be assisted in obtaining the

help they feel they need. However, the literature identifies several groups of patients as needing

specialised psychosocial care. They include:

(a) Patients who use donated gametes, surrogacy and/or adoption to achieve parenthood. So-

called third-party reproduction raises psychological reactions and issues which can be

more fully discussed and/or addressed in counselling (see section 5, Special Fields).

(b) Patients who experience great distress. Distress most commonly shows itself as depres-

sion or anxiety, but it can be manifested as any negative affective reaction. Patients often

consult the counsellor because distress reaches a level at which it interferes with daily

activities. About 1520% of infertile patients are expected to experience this level of

distress at some point in their infertility experience (Boivin, 1999).

(c) Patients considered to be at risk because of their psychological history or presenting

profile. Leiblum and William (1993) found that most clinics refused to treat patients and/

or required pre-treatment counselling for patients who showed evidence of substance

abuse, had a history of psychiatric (e.g. schizophrenia) or cognitive (e.g. profound intel-

lectual impairment) disorder, or who presented with either a severely disturbed marital

relationship and/or irresolvable discord between spouses on treatment issues. Patients

whose history showed any indication of child maltreatment were refused treatment.

(d) Patients who require some form of genetic counselling as part of their fertility treatment

(i.e. pre-implantation genetic diagnosis). These patients may wish to avoid transmitting a
genetic disorder to their offspring, to screen donated embryos and/or to acquire informa-

tion about a future child (e.g. sex selection). All of these procedures may raise psycho-

logical issues that need more exploration than might be available as part of routine clinic

psychosocial care (see Hammer Burns & Covington, 1999 for a full discussion).

Patients experiencing high distress will be the topic of the present section.


The purpose of counselling with highly distressed patients will be determined partly by the

theoretical framework in which the counsellor works. Psychodynamic approaches might examine

how feelings of loss provoked by infertility reawaken past losses, whereas cognitive behavioural

approaches might want to focus on modifying maladaptive thinking patterns. Despite theoretical

and methodological differences, most counsellors would agree that the ultimate goal of counsel-

ling is to help the patient achieve a better quality of life. The type of counselling offered to

patients (e.g. individual, couple, group) will depend on the patient and the cause(s) of their

distress as well as the resources of the clinic.


The objectives of counselling highly distressed patients are to:

enable the expression of emotions,

identify the cause(s) of distress and

provide intervention(s) to minimise distress and help patients better manage distress.

Depending on the theoretical framework, different methodologies will be used to meet these

objectives. Ultimately the patient should feel understood and better able to cope with the chal-

lenges infertility and its treatment present.

<B>Risk factors for high distress

Much research has been carried out on the factors which predict poor adjustment among infertile

patients. These risk factors fall into several categories.


Personal risk factors include:

pre-existing psychopathology (e.g. personality disorder, depression),

primary infertility,

being a woman,

viewing parenting as a central adult life goal and

general use of avoidant coping strategies (e.g. wishful thinking, fantasy).

<C>Situational or social

Situational or social risk factors include:

poor marital relationship,

impoverished social network and

situations or people which remind the person of their infertility (e.g. family reunions, pregnant



Risks associated with treatment include:

side effects associated with medication (e.g. mood fluctuations),

situations which threaten the goal of pregnancy (e.g. miscarriage, treatment failure) and

decision-making times (e.g. start and end of treatment, foetal reduction).

It is often a combination of factors which make distress overwhelming. Some risk factors are

actually the cause of distress (e.g. miscarriage) and when combined with personal risk factors

make the experience of infertility unmanageable. For example, ending treatment will be distress-

ing for most patients but it may be especially so for individuals with a history of depression or

those whose central goal in adulthood was parenting. It is important to keep in mind that the risk

posed by some factors may be mitigated by the presence of buffers such as a strong marital

relationship and/or good social support.

<A>Typical issues

<B>Identifying patients experiencing high distress

Different strategies have been used to identify patients experiencing high distress. Some research

identifies highly distressed patients through clinical caseness which identifies people scoring

above a certain cut-off point on standardised measures of psychiatric and psychological adjust-

ment (e.g. Minnesota Multiphasic Personality (Inventory MMPI)). Other research uses psychiat-

ric diagnostic criteria (e.g. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) IV)) assessed during

clinical interview, while self-report of subjective distress is the basis of identification in other

studies. Interestingly, the incidence of caseness is the same regardless of the method used (e.g.

about 20%) which would suggest the sensitivity of all these methods to be more or less equiva-

lent. However, few clinics use formal pre-treatment assessments. This is not as alarming as one

might think, because the number of patients taking up counselling is also 20%, suggesting that

those who need help manage to obtain it through self-referral or referral by clinic staff.

<B>Patients who refuse help

Despite the best efforts of counsellors some highly distressed patients will refuse to attend coun-

selling. There may be a variety of reasons for this refusal but one study found that a principal

barrier for such patients was the practical aspect of getting help (Boivin et al., 1999). It was

shown that more patients would use counselling if they were contacted personally and if the
steps by which they could obtain such help were clearly outlined. Other patients refuse help

because they do not recognise the need for such help. For example, patients may direct their

anger at clinic staff venting feelings of disappointment and anger without recognising that such

emotions more frequently stem from the infertility than from poor care by clinic staff. In such

cases it is important to acknowledge the triggers of emotions but also to help patients acknowl-

edge the deeper reasons for their reactions.

<A>Communication skills

All skills involved in professional counselling are required.


Boivin, J., Scanlan, L. and Walker, S. M. (1999). Why are infertile couples not using psychoso-

cial counselling? Hum. Reprod., 14, 13841391.

Hammer Burns, L. and Covington, S. N. (eds.) (1999). Infertility Counseling. A Comprehensive

Handbook for Clinicians. Parthenon, London and New York.

Jennings, S. E. (1995). Infertility Counselling. Blackwell Science, Oxford. [[YY NU]]

Leiblum, S.R. and Williams, E. (1993). Screening in or out of the new reproductive options:

Who decides and why. J. Psychosom. Obstet, Gynaecol., 14, 1384-1391.

Heribert Kentenich


Infertility involves suffering. To be infertile means to suffer from childlessness and it is the
psychological trauma of childlessness and its perceived undesirability that prompts patients and
couples to seek professional help. However infertile people do not go to a psychologist or
psychotherapist to resolve this trauma but to a physician or an infertility clinic because infertility
requires medical diagnosis and medical diagnosis is generally a matter for physicians. Treatment
of infertility is also a medical matter. Only in rare cases is psychotherapy a primary necessity.
Thus, despite the psychological issues involved the problem of infertility leads to an almost
exclusive focus on medical aspects for which physicians are responsible.

While the physician will deal primarily with this medical focus his/her relationship with the
couple means that his/her work will also frequently involve dealing with psychological issues.
This would be expected given a patient-centered approach to infertility care. However, there are
also psychological issues which are unique to the physician which arise from the special nature
of the physician-patient relationship. Whilst couples are trying to achieve their intensely desired
goal of pregnancy the physician will become a person of central significance in their lives.
Physicians must be prepared to deal with the emotional and psychological issues provoked by
the important role they now play (Lalos , 1999). Initially patients may react to the physician in
ways consistent with the relationship they have developed together. However, patient reactions,
thoughts and feelings may also be determined by early childhood and past life experiences which
occurred outside the physician-patient relationship (Kentenich, 1992).

The physician too will react to the patient or couple and may also be confronted with their own
psychological issues when considering their feelings about these patients. Reactions to patients
will vary: The physician may feel his/her contact with the patient is pleasant and easy or
may find it unpleasant and difficult. This will depend on his/her personal history and
personality traits as well as on those of the patient or couple.

Psychologists call patients reactions to physicians transference whereas the physicians

reactions to the patient are called countertransference.

While most of the psychological work the physician does will be confined to what we have
termed patient-centered care, it may also extend, depending on qualifications, to professional
The issues which confront the physician may also be experienced by the entire team involved in
the care of the infertile patient and couple. Various professional groups are involved in medical
diagnosis and therapy, each with special tasks according to their skills. The medical side is made
up of physicians, biologists, embryologists, nurses and lab technicians whereas the psychological
side is composed of counselors, nurses, psychologists, psychotherapists and psychiatrists.


From the physicians first meeting with the patient/couple, an atmosphere should be created that
nurtures a trusting physician-patient or physician-couple relationship. Such an atmosphere is one
based on openness and mutual respect. Couples should be given the opportunity to ask questions
at any time. Above all, they should be given an opportunity to voice their own ideas about
diagnosis and therapy.

The physician can achieve this goal by regarding the patient/couple as a medical and
psychological unit. Infertility involves suffering, anxiety and insecurity and it is the physicians
task to ensure that such distress is minimised during the diagnostic and treatment phase
(Golombok, 1992). For example , about one third of all couples report sexual dysfunction during
the diagnostic investigation and treatment. Since couples often have difficulties discussing
matters of sexuality, it is important that consultations take place in an atmosphere that makes it
easier for couples to talk about such intimate matters. Physicians should therefore be prepared to
address problems of sexuality both in diagnosis (e.g., post-coital test, masturbation for semen
sample) and in treatment (e.g., time-scheduled sex, masturbation for insemination/ IVF).

The physician is also responsible for ensuring that patients receive the care they need. The
physician is the patients principal partner in medical treatment. Once a diagnosis has been
made, s/he has a decisive role in choosing along with the couple the course of (medical)
therapy. His/her advice is of particular importance with regard to the question of whether
medical treatment is indicated and, if so, what kind of treatment, what treatment intervals should
be, and when it would be advisable to terminate therapy. The physician should also assess
whether psychological counseling will be necessary and be prepared to either provide and/or
refer patients to appropriate sources of psychological help.


One of the primary tasks of the physician is to provide information. Many couples have only an
inadequate understanding of how their bodies work. They know little of the causes of infertility,
the diagnostic possibilities and/or options for treatment. Here, it is up to the physician to ensure
that information is available, whether provided by himself or herself or whether provided
through the team. This information can be given in person or in booklets, videos, CD-ROMs or
by other means. Immigrant couples may have additional communication or language problems
which may compound the problem of understanding diagnostic and therapeutic information. It is
therefore essential that information is available and, preferably, can be given in the patients
mother tongue.

In order to best help patients and couples the physician should know not only the medical
problem at hand but also the person and couple s/he is treating. Key questions which might be
useful in gathering information to achieve this goal would include:

The patients or couples personal experience of infertility

The effects of infertility on their partnership and sexuality
How the couple deals with childlessness inside and outside the partnership (e.g. in
professional/ working life).

Other questions which might also be useful for a psychological understanding are presented in
the appendix to this chapter.

Another important objective for the physician is to ensure that the medical procedures and
treatments used do not prevent [further] deterioration in reproductive and psychological health.
Physicians should talk openly to patients about unhealthy lifestyles (e.g., smoking, alcohol,
drugs), negative effects and/or side-effects of medication, and the pros and cons of different
operations as they affect the persons health. During these discussions the psychological effects
which may occur must also be discussed. For example, mood and cognitive changes caused by
some fertility drugs or surgeries which are unlikely to yield any meaningful increase in fertility

<A>Typical issues

One problem for the physician and patient is the almost exclusive focus on the medical aspects
of infertility. Progress in the treatment of infertility has been almost exclusively in the medical
field. Treatments such as IVF and ICSI mean greatly improved chances for patients to become
pregnant and have a child. Because of this, it is understandable that the medical aspects of
treatment are given considerably more weight than psychological counseling. Both patients and
physicians focus on medical success and the birth of a healthy child. It is also understandable
that both sides are interested in active medical treatment, that both have difficulties with
temporary pauses in treatment and that both tend to advocate invasive forms of therapy which
may have a higher success rate. As a result, a subconscious preference for and focus on active
medical treatment may occur on the part of both patient and physician.

Couples use different strategies to cope with infertility and these may interfere with the work of
the physician. Patients overestimate their chances of success with treatment and idealise both a
potential pregnancy and the longed-for child. They also idealise the physician and his/her team
as well as new techniques/technology. Another frequent way of coping with infertility is denial,
where either the poor chances of success or the causes of infertility may be denied. However, it
should be noted that an early phase of idealisation may then be followed by phases in which
negative aspects are focused on. The physicians abilities may be viewed with contempt,
particularly if s/he or his/her team have been unsuccessful or if mistakes have occurred in
therapy. Behaviors involving unrealistic optimism, idealisation and denial are coping
mechanisms. It is important for the physician to be aware of them so that s/he can better
understand the patients or couples reactions (Edelmann et al. 1994).

Another problem is that physicians can come to feel omnipotent. The advantage of paying
attention to both psyche and soma (i.e., adopting patient-centered care) is that the person and/or
couple is seen as a whole. This can be a great help in establishing a trusting physician-patient
relationship. On the other hand, providing both medical and psychological care can also cause
physicians (and patients) to overestimate the impact of the physician and what they can do. It is
imperative therefore that physicians recognise their limitations in the psychological domain and
draw upon the expertise of counselors, psychologists, psychotherapists and other mental health
professionals in the team.

However referral to a counsellor may cause problems for some patients. Patients may interpret
referral as rejection on the part of the physician and may feel they have been passed on. Such
a referral may hurt a patients feelings, especially if medical treatment has been unsuccessful.
Because of this, involvement of counselors should always be integrated into the patient care from
first consultations and presented to couples in a positive light (Boivin et al., 1999).

One issue which has caused some debate and difficulty for physicians is the criterion by which
success in infertility care can be decided. Physicians and couples generally consider successful
treatment of infertility to mean achieving pregnancy and the birth of a child. However success
can also mean that not having children is accepted and/or that couples are enabled to see their
childlessness from another perspective which allows them to reshape their lives and achieve life
satisfaction (de Parsevale, 1992; Kemeter, 1998).

Finally, when patients are being treated in infertility clinics the clinic ethos or culture is
important in making couples feel helped in a caring way. Infertility clinics are normally run by
physicians and because of this have a strong medical orientation. However, teamwork means not
only that individuals have their own particular tasks but also that they should be respected as
members of the team whether they attend to the medical or psychological needs of the patient.
If either aspect of care is devalued or if domains within the medical (e.g., embryology, nursing)
or psychological spheres are devalued then tensions may arise which can easily be transmitted to
patients. The goal of patient-centered care is more likely to be met if those who manage
infertility clinics ensure that their teams can function to the best of their abilities in as positive an
environment as can be created.

<A>Communication skills

Physicians play a central role in dealing with the problem of infertility. They must not only be
competent medical specialists but also have a basic understanding of the psychological problems
involved in childlessness, the stress of therapy, coping mechanisms and the importance of the
physician-patient relationship. As these issues will only rarely have been part of their medical
studies, physicians need to try to gain the relevant knowledge elsewhere. In the long term,
medical training needs to be changed so that training in counselling is an integral part of every
physicians preparation for his professional task.

An ability to guide conversations with different interviewing techniques facilitates contact

between the patient and physician. Moreover appropriate training in psychological interview
techniques can help physicians identify symptoms of psychological distress which may signal
the need for more in-depth counselling. Physicians should therefore make an effort to master
these techniques.

During infertility treatment, there are always situations in which dealing with a couple proves
exceedingly difficult. Both the patient or couple and the physician may become aware of their
dissatisfaction, which may even involve aggression and anger. Peer supervision groups allow
physicians to discuss such difficult cases and to look for solutions in a supportive environment
with other physicians and under the supervision of a group leader. Attending such groups is
recommended, either on a regular basis or at regular intervals.

Finally, as mentioned, fertility clinics operate as teams. Within these teams, people may have
much in common, but there is also the possibility of friction, aggression and dispute. Team
meetings should not only cover the discussion of organisational matters but also concern
themselves with the culture within the team. Emotion, friction and disagreement are normal in
a team. Outside team supervision may be advisable.

<A> Appendix: Additional questions for patient interviews

How long have you wanted a child/children?

How long have you been under treatment?

How many physicians have you seen?

What do you think is the cause of your infertility (i.e., subjective theory)?

Who is more upset by your infertility, the man or the woman?

What has changed in your life since becoming aware of infertility?

How satisfied are you with love and sexuality (e.g., frequency, lack of orgasm, difficult coitus, sexual desire)?

Has anything in your life as a result of the infertility (e.g., social, sexual, etc.)?

What treatment do you think should be used?

How do you view the alternatives (e.g., adoption, fostering, remaining childless)

What are your personal limits for treatment? How long can it last?

What will the person or couple do if treatment is not successful?

Additional questions which may help the physician prepare for reactions to diagnostic and/or treatment events:

Does the patient suffer from an ulcer, asthma, abdominal pain or skin conditions which are triggered or worsened

by stress?

Is there a history of psychiatric symptoms or psychotherapeutic treatment in response to life crises, partnership

issues and/or infertility?


Boivin J, Scanlan LC, Walker SM (1999): Why are infertile patients not using psychosocial
counselling? Hum Reprod 5, 1384-1391

de Parseval, G.D.(1992). Clinical remarks concerning parents (potential and real) after different
treatments for the infertility of couples. J.Psychosom.Obstet.Gynaecol. 13, 65-72.
Edelmann, R.J., Connolly, K.J. & Bartlett, H. (1994). Coping strategies and psychological
adjustment of couples presenting for IVF. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 38, 355-
Golombok, S.(1992). Psychological functioning in infertility patients. Hum.Reprod. 7, 208-212.

Kemeter P, Fliegl J, (1998). Adjusting to life when assisted conception fails. Human Reprod
13:4, 1099-1105.

Kentenich, H (1992): Emotional Considerations within an Infertility Unit. In: Wijma K. and von
Schoultz B. (Editors) Reproductive Life. Advances in Research in Psychosomatic
Obstetrics and Gynaecology Parthenon, Carnforth, p. 551 - 556

Lalos, A. (1999). Breaking bad news concerning fertility. Human Reproduction, 14, 581-585.
Johannes Bitzer

The following chapter presents a framework for integrating patient counselling within the medi-

cal environment.

The infertility diagnostic process (i.e., work-up) and treatment can be described as a 10-step

circular process:

Step 1: Introduction and initiation of a working alliance

Step 2: Problem assessment and monitoring

Step 3: Clarification about problem definition and negotiation about objectives and priorities

Step 4: Exchange of hypotheses and decision-making concerning diagnostic procedures

Step 5: Investigations, diagnostic procedures

Step 6: Information giving about results

Step 7: Elaboration of options to resolve infertility problem

Step 8: Decision-making about specific options

Step 9: Treatment procedures

Step 10: Evaluation of outcome

The 10-step cycle may restart at different points or may terminate at any point. Patient-centered-

care and counselling can be integrated at each step in this process. Moreover, the psychosocial

process at each step can be further described in terms of purpose, objective(s), typical issue(s)

and required communication skills.

Purpose defines why psychosocial care is necessary at each step in terms of cognitive, emo-

tional, relational, motivational, decision-making and behavioural domains.

Objectives define normative entities or specific goals to be realised by psychosocial care and

may include (1) emotional support of the patient, (2) enhancement of patients sense of au-

tonomy and self-determination, (3) empowerment for the patient through increased knowledge

and competence, and (4) comprehensive person-orientated, individual care for the patient.

Typical issues refer to negative experiences of the patient and team that pose specific chal-

lenges to interactions and communication efforts and which may endanger, disrupt or completely

block the problem assessment and problem-solution process.

Communication skills describe specific attitudes and knowledge as well as verbal and non-

verbal techniques necessary to provide the basis for a successful completion of the step con-


For each of the 10 steps, the specific purposes, objectives, typical issues and communication

skills are presented below.



This is the first cognitive and emotional contact, and provides the basis for a helpful relationship.


<B>Emotional support

The patient should experience emotional relief from the infertility crisis.


The patient should feel understood, accepted and respected.

<A>Typical issues

There is no emotional contact between the infertility team and the patients. The team is occupied

by charts, writing down the history, etc. The patients feel like an anonymous number in an

anonymous institution and they have the impression that they, with their specific individual

problems, are not understood.

<A>Communication skills

Emotional and relational skills are used to build up a relationship. The team builds up personal

contact by introducing everybody and by taking care to perceive the patients as individuals with

unique needs and characteristics. Their names, professions and nationalities should be remem-

bered, and the team should give the patients reassurance that these aspects of their identity are


An important part of this step is perception of underlying reactions in patients emotions and

behaviour. Shame, anger, frustration, aggression, feelings of inferiority and rejection are fre-

quently encountered during the first visit. The team should register and note these emotions to

foresee possible difficulties in the relationship between the team and the patients. Occasionally

these emotions should be verbalised by the team to indicate to the patients that emotions are

permitted and that they have found the time and the place to express their desires and fears

regarding their unfulfilled wish for a child.




The team can obtain and gather information about all the patients problems related to the unful-

filled desire for a child. The team should obtain information about the background, the history

and the consequences of the problem as well as the subjective theories of the patients about what

is causing the problem. The team should obtain information about previous attempts at problem



The patients can express themselves and the team can respond to patients disclosures emotion-

ally and with support.


The team and patients get closer; a process of bonding begins.


<B>Emotional support

The patients should have the opportunity and the time to tell their infertility story and to express

all the emotional and social problems related to their infertility.

<B>Autonomy and participation

The patients should have the opportunity to express their ideas about possible causes of their

infertility and possibly gain some insight into lifestyle factors that influence their fertility.
<B>Comprehensive person-orientated care

The team should obtain a comprehensive picture of the infertility of the patients with its psycho-

social background and consequences.

<B>Comprehensive problem assessment

This is the step during which screening for psychosocial risk factors can be made.

<A>Typical issues

The patients do not have the time to tell their story. They are frequently interrupted by the team

with closed questions and pressed into a specific response by scheme of suggestive and leading

questions. The team does not address psychosocial issues of infertility: patient communication

and behaviour, conflicts, sexuality, etc. The patients perception of the problems and those of the

team are incongruent and contradictory.

<A>Communication skills


The most important skill in this phase of the process is actively listening and observing. Who

tells whom which type of story? What is the emotional impact? How do the patients interact?

What are the reactions of the team?

There are very different types of information that can be obtained at this step, including reported

information about facts of the patients lives, and about their feelings and reactions to certain life

events, as well as direct information by observing their behaviour and by perceiving and inter-

preting the emotional reactions.


The team should ask important open-ended questions, such as: When did you realise for the first

time that you couldnt get pregnant although you wanted to? How did you react? What were your

feelings? How did you first handle the situation? How did this infertility experience affect your

life? What are your feelings and ideas about possible causes of this fertility problem? How do

you perceive and handle the problem as a couple? What were the influences on your partnership

and your sexuality?

A questionnaire can also help to screen for psychosocial risks such as depression, severe con-

flicts of the patients, social isolation, personality disorders, etc. If these factors are diagnosed,

referral to an appropriate resource e.g. a psychotherapist or other mental health professional

is indicated and helpful.





The patients problems are summarised and verified. The objectives of the patients can be clari-

fied and priorities defined. The patients obtain information about the possibilities and limitations

of the work-up and treatment.

<B>Emotional and relational

There is deepening of rapport or working alliance between the patients and the team. A common

concept of problems and objectives is established.


<B>Respect and support

The patients should feel assured that all important problems are noted and should understand that

their agenda is accepted.

<B>Autonomy and participation

The patients should be involved in the definition of objectives and understand their own partici-

pation and responsibilities.

<B>Increase knowledge and empower patients

The patients should get comprehensible information about the possibilities and limits of medical


<A>Typical issues

The patients and the team do not reach or formulate a common agenda of problems, priorities

and objectives. Each sides views remain fixed; there is no exchange, but increasing mistrust.
The patients have unrealistic, idealistic expectations and projections regarding [unlimited] treat-

ment opportunities. The team is idealised to be later devalued. The patients priorities and con-

cepts differ from those of the team. The patients want immediate direct help, while the team

wants to focus first on a diagnostic work-up. The partners have divergent and even opposing

priorities and objectives: for example, one partner may want intensive treatment, while the other

is hesitant, and the wish for a child is therefore asymmetric. A central issue is how to deal with

gender differences in this context.

<A>Communication skills

<B>General verbal and cognitive

There is a summary of the problems and verification to ensure that all relevant information has

been included. The patients are encouraged to ask questions and give additional information. It

might be helpful to create a problem list.


At this stage it is important for the team to give information about the general knowledge regard-

ing infertility, about the scope of the intervention and about the possibilities and limitations of

infertility treatment. There are some basic rules to facilitate patient education. First, the counsel-

lor has to be sure that the patients agenda is addressed. Second, the patients should take an

active role in the learning process, by demonstrating their understanding. Third, the amount of

take-home information should be limited. A typical patient is able to absorb a maximum of three

major points in one consultation. Booklets, videos and other materials can help to ensure infor-

mation will be retained.

The principles of information giving are: establish rapport with the patient; use lay terms and

avoid professional jargon; highlight the message; present each category of information sepa-

rately; give small units of information; summarise the major points; provide supplemental mate-

rial; put information in writing; check for patient comprehension.


The team and the patients negotiate about priorities and related objectives of co-operation. Each

party proposes issues and exchanges views to build up a common working objective. Negotiation

means exchange of information, opinions, wishes and fears to create a common platform for

<B>Verbal techniques and major issues

The questions are mainly open; there is much verification and information giving. The content of

the communication should include discussion of the following questions: What are the expecta-

tions of the patients with respect to work-up and treatment? What do they know about it, what

are their questions? What are the priorities of the patients? Do they primarily wish to know about

the causes, or do they want care or cure? Do they want the fastest way to a child, or do they

want to be as natural as possible? What are the limits for the patients, and what are their fears

and doubts? What amount of money and time do they want to invest? What do they think about

the future development of the treatment? What are they going to do if treatment fails?





The physician generates hypotheses about the causes of the infertility problem and elaborates a

diagnostic plan. The team gives information to the patients about possible causes of the infertility
and about possible diagnostic procedures referring to these causes. The patients express their

concepts, ideas and comments on the propositions.

<B>Motivational decision-making

The team and the patients enter into a decision-making process concerning the diagnostic proce-


<B>Comprehensive approach to infertility

There should be comprehensive hypothesis generation by the physician or the team.

<B>Increase knowledge and competence

The patients should receive adequate information about diagnostic measures.

<B>Enhance autonomy and participation

There should be mutual decision-making about which diagnostic procedures to apply.

<B>Empower the patients

The patients should be enabled to give (or withhold) informed consent regarding diagnostic


<A>Typical issues

There is a limited and narrow scope of hypotheses, very often either purely somatic or purely
psychosocial. The patients cannot contribute and integrate their concept into the diagnostic work-

up and the decision-making. The teams decision is imposed on the patients, preventing them

from understanding and participating. The patients and team have different views and opinions

about certain diagnostic measures and cannot find a compromise. The partners have different

views and opinions about certain diagnostic measures.

<A>Communication skills


Information is given in a comprehensible way adapted to the language of the patients. Informa-

tion should be given in small units with continuous checking back with the patients. Important

points should be announced and summarised. The range of possible causes of infertility is ex-

plained by demonstrating the large spectrum of biological, psychological and social factors

involved (broad hypothesis-generation and explanation).


The patients are encouraged to make their beliefs and views clear, and these are compared to the

hypotheses of the team and discussed. The advantages and disadvantages of the different diag-

nostic procedures are discussed and evaluated to come to a common decision about which tests

to apply.




Investigations provide specific information for the team about causes or contributing factors to

the infertility problem (biological, psychological, social factors). Investigations enable the team

to elaborate a problem-solution plan. Diagnostic procedures allow the patients to become experts

in infertility procedures and to know more about their infertility problem.


There should be decreased anxiety and increased reassurance.


The patientteam relationship should be strengthened.


<B>Comprehensive care

The causes of the infertility should be recognised, to enable the team to come to a comprehensive


<B>Increase of knowledge and competence

The patients are helped to understand better their infertility problem through personal experi-


<A>Typical issues

The patients suffer pain and frustration during the diagnostic procedures. They experience feel-

ings of helplessness, of being abandoned or being insufficient. They feel fear about possible

negative results. Stress reactions may include depressive mood and bodily symptoms. The pa-
tients may have difficulty in coping.

<A>Communication skills


The team should explain exactly and in a way that the patient can understand what is going to be

done, as well as the possible outcomes. Supplemental charts and diagrams and other written

material can be helpful.


The team should react to and verbalise the emotions the patient(s) display during the procedures.

The team should be able to perceive and pick up negative emotions. A possible query might be

You look very tense and anxious to me. Can I help you?




The team informs the patients about the results. The patients receive and understand the implica-

tion of the information about the results.


The patients can express and handle the emotional reactions to the results. The team supports

their emotional reactions.


There is deepening of rapport.


<B>Competence and knowledge

The patients should better understand the causes and factors contributing to their problem.

<B>Increase emotional and social competence

The patients should be enabled to cope with this information emotionally.

<B>Support and care

The team should help the patients with coping.

<A>Typical issues

The patients do not understand the results or misunderstand certain parts of the results. The

language used by the team is not appropriate. There are too many professional words. The infor-

mation giving about the results lacks empathy, so that the patients are traumatised by receiving

negative results they cannot cope with. A special issue is unexplained infertility. In these cases

the patients may suffer the difficulties of coping with uncertainty.

<A>Communication skills


Use appropriate language. Give small pieces of information. Check back. Allow questions, etc.


Provide emotional support for coping with negative or stressful results. The team has to learn

how to transmit or transfer these results. The team should help coping.




The team elaborates different options to resolve the problem of infertility based on the diagnosis

(e.g., treatment, temporary pause in trying to conceive, child-free living, adoption). The patients
receive and reprocess this information and have time to consider it.


There is relief and hope for resolution.


<B>Increase of competence

The team should aim to increase the knowledge of the patients about possible problem solutions.

<B>Autonomy and self-determination

Options should be created for the patients.

<B>Comprehensive care

Treatment should be individualised.

<A>Typical issues

The patients do not understand the options. The patients have misconceptions about the options.

There are no options for the patients. Only one option is proposed by the team. None of the

options is acceptable.

<A>Communication skills


Demonstrate and explain options. Give as broad a spectrum of options and possible decisions.

Verify. Encourage questions.




The team and the patients discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the different options.

Possible outcomes are anticipated and worked through.


Possible emotional reactions to different outcomes are discussed.


The patients participate in the decision. The team and the patients are partners.


<B>Participation and self determination

The patients participate in the decision-making process.

<B>Patient-centered care

Decisions regarding treatment are highly individualised.

<B>Informed consent

The patients can make decisions on an informed basis, knowing about advantages and disadvan-

tages of the different procedures, etc.

<A>Typical issues

The patients cannot make decisions on their own. There is much external pressure and some-

times pressure from the team. The partners do not agree and there are conflicts about the method

each prefers. Possible outcomes of procedures are not discussed and the advantages and disad-

vantages are not worked through. The patients cannot give truly informed consent, having bal-

anced the advantages and disadvantages of their decision. There are undetected differences and


<A>Communication skills


The procedures should be explained repeatedly until the message is understood.

<B>Decision-making and negotiation

Work through the advantages and disadvantages of the different procedures with the patients.

Point out possible outcomes and anticipate emotional reactions.


Create an atmosphere of partnership.




The patients are motivated to follow the treatment instructions.


There is a practical realisation of the treatment plan with physical interventions. The patient

takes the necessary steps to have the diagnostic tests/treatments.


<B>Problem solution

The infertility problem should resolved. A pregnancy and later a healthy baby should be at-


<B>Comprehensive care

The patients should not be harmed or traumatised.

<B>Autonomy and participation

The individual partner should be able to cope with the treatment and be actively involved.

The team should help to deal with uncertainty.

<A>Typical issues

The patients suffer intensive physical, sexual and/or psychological distress and anxiety through

side effects of the treatment. In case of failure, the patients experience frustration, anger, feelings

of inferiority and insufficiency and/or depression, which have to be understood by the team.

There are stressful waiting periods. Uncertainty must be dealt with.

<A>Communication skills


The patients should have the opportunity to have intermittent talks and counselling to explore the

emotional reaction or experience.


All steps in the treatment process should be anticipated and the patients encouraged to ask ques-



It is important to teach skills for coping with stress and for handling failure.


To decrease vegetative reactions, the patients should be offered relaxation techniques.




The team receives important information. The patients receive information, comments and

explanations from the team.


The results evoke emotional reactions, which the patients have to cope with.
<B>Motivational and decision-making

Eventually the cycle is re-entered at one of the steps.


<B>Comprehensive care

There should be emotional support and understanding for the patients.


The patients should be empowered to make sense of their own experiences and increase their

knowledge and their competence for decision-making.

<B>Enhance self-competence

The patients should be enabled to make choices and to cope with difficulties and losses. The

patients should be helped to deal with positive and negative reactions in the context of preg-

nancy. Facilitate and accompany the mourning process related to the repetitive experience of

non-fulfilment of the wish for a child.

<A>Typical issues

There may be disappointment and frustration about failure experienced by the patients. Emotions

such as depression, anger and other negative affect must be dealt with. There may be aggression

towards the treatment team. There may be anxiety and/or rigid, repetitive obsessive-compulsive

behaviour by the patients.

<A>Communication skills


The team should listen, reflect emotions, verify and encourage questions.


The team should tolerate negative emotions, respond positively and show empathy, perceive and

verbalise unexpressed patients may be experiencing. The team should understand the different

phases of shock and grief.


The team should teach coping techniques, as well as create awareness about the individual

coping mechanisms and show the different possibilities of coping.


The team and the patients can re-enter a decision-making process about stopping or re-entering

the cycle.


The principles of care for infertile patients are based mainly on knowledge about the biology of

human reproduction and the technologies derived from this knowledge. Advances in the subcel-

lular and molecular dimension of the fertilisation process have been a very successful way of

increasing the medical potential of gamete manipulation and have thus broadened therapeutic

possibilities for infertile patients. This is the unquestioned progress of reproductive medicine.

As they look beyond the biology of reproduction and focus on the psychosocial dimension of

human procreation, doctors continue to be confronted with the emotional impact of the unful-

filled wish for a child and the human dimension of the creation of a life.
Compared to the medical dimension, this human dimension is much less spectacular and, with

respect to emotions, thoughts, behaviour, conflicts and other psychosocial factors, there is much

less progress because the people involved in creating a new life will always be subject to the

limitations, weaknesses and inheritances of human nature. Only by including the psychosocial

dimension into the infertility consultation, however, will we be able to make biological reproduc-

tion human reproduction.

Until now the psychosocial aspects of involuntary childlessness, the emotional needs of the

patients and the interpersonal encounter during infertility work-up and treatment have either

been largely neglected by purely technically based services, or a division has been established

between the biotechnical part of the infertility cure provided by reproductive endocrinologists,

embryologists, surgeons, etc. on the one hand and the infertility care provided by psychologists,

counsellors and other mental health professionals.

This division has certain advantages, the most important being the high degree of professional

competence through specialisation. Reproductive technologies, diagnostic procedures and above

all therapeutic interventions have become so complicated that highly specialised training is an

absolute precondition. At the other end of the multidisciplinary spectrum there is a long tradition
of counselling by psychologists, which has led to an accumulation of an enormous amount of

knowledge about the emotions, cognitions, behaviour, stresses and coping mechanisms of infer-

tile patients.

The second advantage is that the infertile patients may have several people (a multidisciplinary

team) as partners, choosing the ones they need the most for the moment; finally, it can be an

advantage that the patients may have independent counselling and advice.

What are the disadvantages of this dualism? Patients may have difficulties establishing a stable

therapeutic relationship; they may feel themselves subdivided into bodies and minds, and lack

the feeling of being treated as a whole person or as an individual couple with an individual
fertility problem. Furthermore, patients may feel misunderstood and even ashamed to be consid-

ered or looked upon as in need of a psychospecialist as if they were neurotic or psychiatrically

ill. This reluctance to accept, or the frank rejection of, professional psychological help may mean

that those patients who would in fact need and want help the most remain untreated. Unmet

psychosocial needs could be one of the factors contributing to unsuccessful treatment.

It therefore seems useful to elaborate a concept of the infertility consultation itself, in which

biotechnical standards and achievements are combined with valuable standards of psychosocial

care and competence with the service providers.

This integrative approach to the consultation is based on two grounds. One is the ethical work to

define objectives of care that go beyond the baby take-home rate: qualities of the doctor

patient relationship, communication, comprehensive care, emotional response, empowerment of

patients through participation, respect for autonomy and involvement in decision-making all help

to cope with stress and other negative consequences of infertility.

The second is an integrative model of the consultation which has been developed over years and

applied to different fields of medicine. The integrated 10-step model described is the application

of this interactive paradigm to the infertility diagnostic and treatment process. It attempts to

microanalyse the process taking place in the consultation in order to better focus on the different

critical dynamic points at which the collaborative process between the patient and treatment team

can be enhanced or blocked.

Some of the steps may seem to be artificially separated from others. Some other steps may seem

to consist of two different phases instead of one. It may also be difficult in the beginning to

differentiate between purposes, objectives, problems and skills, but the theoretical definitions are

given and these concepts have proven their usefulness in different clinical research projects and

practice. It is still a preliminary model that can be adapted and modified according to new re-

search results and conceptual work. We believe, however, that reproductive medicine needs an

integrated model of infertility consultations and this model can be defined through systematic
description and operationalisation of the key features of psychosocial care in infertility consulta-

tions (purpose, objectives, typical issues and communications skills). Such a model is needed for

three reasons. First, to evaluate the combined biotechnical and psychosocial interventions with

respect to defined quality standards; second, to serve as a basis for empirical research on patient

satisfaction and treatment outcome; and, third, to provide reproductive special units with a tool

for training residents and specialists to enhance and improve their psychosocial competence.
Patricia Baetens


Patients infertility history has an impact on the way they live through pregnancy and child

rearing. Infertility creates a crisis at the individual, relational and social levels. The transition

from infertile patient to pregnant patient may be influenced by the individual fertility history of

each patient, the way they have dealt with the infertility problem in the past, their sociocultural

environment and the kind of treatment they have had.


Infertile patients have had to go through tremendous efforts in order to have a child. The preg-

nancy represents an enormous investment of time, emotions, energy and often money. During the

treatment patients focus on becoming pregnant. Patients have many fantasies about how ex-

tremely happy they will be once pregnant. However, when pregnant they have to deal with the
possibility of complications and the risk of losing the pregnancy. This is especially problematic if

they already have experience with reproductive loss. Clinical experience shows that anxiety and

stress are increased during the pregnancy after infertility treatment. Two extreme reactions in

relation to the pregnancy might appear in some patients. Denial might occur in women who are

not capable of developing an attachment to the foetus because of the anticipation or fear of

negative events during pregnancy (e.g., miscarriage). Others may develop an exaggerated worry

about each normal physical event in the pregnancy (Covington & Hammer-Burns, 1999). The

fact that pregnant patients do not feel extremely happy about their pregnancy, as they feel they

should, produces feelings of guilt and shame, which further reinforce feelings that may have

developed when the infertility problem was first discovered.

Being pregnant introduces issues concerning the welfare and especially the health of the baby to

be born. The patients inability to conceive may have already produced a lack of confidence in

their bodies and therefore might decrease the belief in their bodies competence during preg-

nancy and delivery. Higher anxiety levels during the pregnancy are related to the in-vitro fertili-

sation (IVF) mothers concern for the well-being of the baby and her fear of being separated

from her baby after it is born (McMahon et al. 1997). Moreover, infertility patients have to deal

with a lot of uncertainty about the quality of the future parentchild relationship and child-

rearing practice. Becoming a parent has lost its naturalness. Patients often have the feeling that

they have to prove that they will be worthy parents. Sometimes they even feel that they are not

competent to be parents.

Patients who used donor gametes have a lot of worries and anxiety about the consequences of the

use of donor material for the future fatherchild and motherchild relationship. Although most of

them are counselled about matters such as anonymity of the donor and about whether to tell the

child about its conception, this discussion was mainly theoretical before the treatment started.

Moreover, during pregnancy, anonymous material can introduce curiosity about the donor,

anxiety about the donors health and genetic background, anxiety about the physical characteris-

tics of the baby and sometimes even a sense of alienation from the child to be born.

In all cases counselling should also deal with the side effects of assisted reproductive techniques

such as multiple gestation, multifoetal reduction and pregnancy risks due to a higher maternal



The team should:

Facilitate the transition from infertility patient to pregnant patient. The patients must set

themselves free from the infertility treatments and invest in the pregnancy. The patients must

adjust to the pregnancy. They need to normalise the pregnancy and to develop an attachment
to the foetus. Furthermore, they need to start an important role transition, i.e. the transition to

parenthood. In clinics where obstetric and infertility teams differ, patients need to separate

themselves psychologically from the infertility team and trust the obstetric team that will

support them through the pregnancy and delivery.

Reduce stress and anxiety levels, help patients to deal with their feelings of guilt and restore

feelings of self-efficacy in order to help them to feel in control over their pregnancy.

Reassure patients about the impact of the treatment on the health of their baby without under-

estimating the chance of having a baby with a congenital or genetic problem. Help them to

deal with their fear of having a baby with a health problem.

Compare their anxieties and stress with those of patients who become pregnant by natural

means: show the similarities and explain the differences resulting from the infertile situation.

For every pregnant woman, pregnancy is a period of profound physical and emotional

changes influencing the body image, the relationships with others and the identity of the

pregnant mother. Moreover, the woman must share her body with another and develop an

attachment with the baby. Some ambivalent feelings may occur during pregnancy. On the one

hand, pregnant women develop a sense of accomplishment and a higher sense of self-esteem.

Nevertheless, anxiety, self-doubt, lower self-confidence and distress about body competence

can also occur in pregnant women complicating adjustment to the pregnancy (Covington &

Hammer-Burns, 1999)

Patients should be informed that some ambiguous feelings may exist towards the child. These

feelings are often provoked by the idea that they have to be perfect parents and that they

may not meet this self-imposed standard. Moreover, transition to parenthood can be more

difficult than they expected. Patients can also question the correctness of their decision to

have a child through IVF. Parents may worry that their child will be affected negatively if s/

he is informed about her/his conception in a non-natural way. Continued counselling after the

birth of the child should be available.

Cope with ambiguous feelings towards the foetus in third-party reproduction.

Counsel on matters such as secrecy and anonymity in third-party reproduction.

<A>Typical issues

The main problem encountered is that after the first ultrasound, performed at 78 weeks, preg-

nant patients and partners are often followed by a obstetricians outside the infertility centre.

Form this point on patients are considered by these teams to have normal pregnancy. However,

the majority of patients will differently in respect of their pregnancy than other people who have

never been infertile. In this context, previously infertile people do not allow themselves to have

negative feelings and, therefore, deny any they experience. Only in interviews years after the

child is born will patients recognise these feelings to some extent.

Moreover, the fertility team is often enthusiastic about the success of the treatment, forcing

patients to react happily. Teams might show a lack of understanding for the doubts and the uncer-

tainty about the pregnancy of former infertile patients. Especially if patients have undergone

multiple cycles of treatment before becoming pregnant, some physicians might become overpro-

tective and overcautious.

IVF parents are more likely to have a multiple pregnancy. They should be counselled about the

physical consequences and medical risks of multiple pregnancies and the stress involved in

taking care of multiples.


Covington, S. N. and Hammer-Burns, L. (1999). Pregnancy after infertility. In: Hammer Burns,

L. and Covington, S. N. (eds.), Infertility Counselling. A Comprehensive Handbook for

Clinicians (pp. 425447). Parthenon, London and New York.

McMahon, C., Ungerer, J., Beaurepaire, J. et al. (1997). Anxiety during pregnancy and foetal
attachment after in-vitro fertilisation conception. Hum. Reprod., 12, 176182.

Alexina McWhinnie


Statistics about the incidence of multiple births show a steep increase over the last 20 years.

Most countries report an incidence of multiple births of 20-30% following assisted conception.

The medical risks both to the mothers and the babies are well documented. The social conse-

quences also cause concern, but the realities of these consequences are not generally addressed in

the medical literature (Fisk & True, 1999; Templeton & Morris, 1998).

There is a contemporary debate about the advisability of reducing the number of embryos trans-

ferred while maintaining approximately the same chances of achieving a pregnancy. There is,

however, less discussion of the fact that a proportion of the increase in multiple births arises from

the use of drug stimulation.

Twins and their upbringing have been studied and researched extensively (Bryan 1992). This

has shown that they are frequently slower learners in language and in other school subjects, that

they develop their own unique social relationship and that parents find it difficult to give them

the individual attention and personal contact that is possible with singletons. Their presence in a

family can cause difficulties for older singleton siblings because of the immediate appeal of

twins to adult outsiders.

Triplets and higher order birth children present the same problems as twins, but to a more exten-

sive and intensive degree. Bryan has called them super-twins. But to date their particular

relationships and specific emotional problems have not been studied in the same depth as have



Decision-making and informed consent are part of medical counselling in relation to the above

double scenario of risk assessment. Also very relevant are the social and financial consequences
of creating multiple birth families. These relate both to the provision of hospital care for several

premature babies and to the burden of lifelong parenting of such children. Hospital care for

premature babies is both expensive and limited in each medical centre. The likelihood of disa-

bling conditions in premature babies and the resulting long-term medical care and social provi-

sion for these children falls on personal resources and/or hospital and community budgets.

Aspects of the parenting of these children which have been studied are practical, financial and

housing provision, as well as psychosocial aspects and mental health consequences for the par-

ents (Botting et al., 1990; Bryan 1992). The practical issues are spelt out by Botting:

Feeding premature babies - smaller and slower than full term babies.

Changing clothes/nappies/washing/drying facilities.

Lack of sleep can become a major problem - one baby crying wakes the other.

Social isolation of mother - problem of going anywhere with three small children; loss of

friends and social contacts.

Financial outlays - house extension; all costs of clothing, etc occur at the same time; loss of

mothers potential earnings.

Mothers recognise they need regular practical help from outside but are reluctant to ask for it. To

do so implies they are not coping.

Relations, immediate and wider kinship, and social networks in the vicinity can play a crucial

role in the familys ability to cope in the early years of these childrens lives. Many grandpar-

ents, however, feel overwhelmed. Not all community and social service providers recognise the

potential needs of these families.


Couples need to be provided with a realistic picture of what it would be like to parent three, four

or more children of identical age. The relevant aspect of this is that they are all at exactly the

same developmental stage and all requiring the appropriate degree of individual adult attention
and concern for that developmental stage. Where there is prematurity, the babies are likely to be

slower and so need more adult care.

A study from the Australian Multiple Births Association (1984) found that simply caring for

three babies aged 6 months and doing some household chores took 197.5 hours per week, clearly

a task well beyond one adult.

Typical reaction of infertile partnerships when they learn of a multiple pregnancy is either that

they are euphoric and make the comment, That would be a ready-made family. Murdoch

(1997) in a survey of patients attitudes about the number of embryos to transfer found that 69%

felt a multiple pregnancy would be the ideal outcome of IVF. They certainly did not see it as a

problem. A similar study from the USA offered a similar conclusion, but on the basis of an

extremely low response rate to the questionnaire (Gleicher et al.,1995).

<A>Typical Issues

The work of the counsellor in this respect is made more difficult by the fact that the public as a

whole are intrigued by the sight of three or more small children, a picture reinforced by the

media, and because it is generally assumed it is the same as caring for several young children in

any family.

Risks to the stability of the partnership and the mental health and the social well-being of the

parents is high in the case of triplets and quadruplets. The reasons for this have already been

spelt out. There is little time for the parents to spend time together and there is constant strain on

financial and personal resources of all kinds. That such situations produce depression, stress and

related conditions of varying degrees of severity and/or marital problems is not surprising. Stud-

ies to date suggest that such problems may occur in one in three to four families. There is also

some evidence that children from such families may be more likely to be received into public

care and/or be subjected to non-accidental injury however more systematic inquiry of these

issues is required (McWhinnie, 2000).

Foetal reduction, i.e. reduction of a multiple pregnancy to twins or a singleton, is now available.

Although clearly controversial in nature, it is offered in some units as a routine option. It is also

controversial regarding the outcome for the family. Follow-up studies to date are limited and

confined to one year after reduction (McKinney, et al., 1995, Schreiner-Engel et al.,1995).

Schreiner-Engel reports that acute feelings of emotional pain, stress and fear are experienced

during this procedure and that mourning for the loss of the foetus or foetuses was reported to

occur in 70%, but that most grieve for only a month. However, moderately severe sadness and

guilt can persist for some especially for an identifiable sub-group who were younger, more

religious and who had viewed the multi-foetal pregnancy on ultrasonography more often.

(Schreiner-Engel et al., 1995). This study concluded that the majority were reconciled to a

termination of some foetuses to preserve the lives of the remaining few.

Counselling needs to recognise this and also to discuss with the partnership how they will deal

with telling the surviving child or children about the foetal reduction (McWhinnie 2000).

<A>Communication skills

Counselling dilemmas for medical and non-medical counsellors relate to all the uncertainties

involved - the desired outcome versus the possible consequences.

Written and discussion material would be helpful to allow decision-making to take account not

just of the medical problem of childlessness but the long-term medical and psychosocial conse-

quences of a multiple pregnancy and birth for a particular partnership. Also to be considered are

the financial resources and hospital care and community provisions that may be available to



Australian Multiple Births Association Inc. (1984) Proposal submitted to the Federal Govern-

ment concerning Act of Grace payments for triplet and quadruplet families, Coogee,


Botting, B.J., Macfarlane, A.J. and Price, F.V. (eds) (1990). Three, Four and More: A Study of
Triplet and Higher Order Births. HMSO, London.

Bryan, E.M. (1992). Twins and Higher Order Births: A Guide to their Nature and Nurture,

Edward Arnold, London.

Fisk, N.M. and True, G. (1999). Twos Company, threes a crowd for embryo transfer, Lancet,


Gleicher, N., Campbell, D.P., Chan, C.L., Karande, C., Rao, R., Balin, M. and Pratt,D. (1995).

The desire for multiple births in couples with infertility problems contradicts present

practice patterns, Hum. Reprod., 10/5, 1079-1084.

McKinney, M., Downey, J. and Timor-Tritsch, I. (1995). The psychological effects of multifoetal

pregnancy reduction, Fertil. & Steril., 64: 51-61.

McWhinnie, A.M. (2000). Euphoria or Despair? Coping with multiple births from ART: what

patients dont tell the clinics, Hum. Fert., 3, 20-25.

Murdoch, A. (1997). Triplets and embryo transfer policy, Hum. Reprod., 12 Supplement Journal

of the British Fertility Society, 2, 88-92.

Schreiner-Engel, P., Walther, N., Mindes, J., Lynch, L. and Berkowitz, R.L. (1995). First-trimes-

ter multifoetal pregnancy reduction: acute and persistent psychologic reactions, American

Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 172, 541-547.

Templeton, A. and Morris, J.K. (1998). Reducing the risk of multiple births by transfer of two

embryos after in vitro fertilisation, The New England Journal of Medicine, 339(9), 573-
Tewes Wischmann


Infertility can be seen as a critical life event. For some patients, unsuccessful medical treatment

can lead to an existential life crisis with severe emotional reactions (Atwood & Dobkin, 1992;

Dunkel Schetter and Lobel, 1991; Wischmann et al., in preparation). Patients, especially those

with unexplained infertility, often believe that their infertility is of psychological origin when

medical treatment fails.


The perspective of living without a child (by birth) should be acknowledged from the beginning

of medical treatment to prevent depression after unsuccessful treatment. The counsellor should

be aware that mourning after unsuccessful infertility treatment is rarely finished. The patients

should not feel deficient if they cannot make the pain disappear (Meyers et al., 1995). Patients

should be encouraged to look for support either from the teams counsellor or from a specially
trained counsellor at home.


With the diversity of medical treatment options available today, deciding to stop treatment can be

more difficult than continuing. At each new step of treatment, the patients should ascertain their

own personal limits of endurance. At the end of each unsuccessful stage of medical treatment,

counselling should facilitate consideration of new perspectives and/or options for the future. This

could mean pausing infertility treatment, considering alternative medical treatment methods or

intensifying medical treatment. The patients should be encouraged to actively participate in this

decision-making process. The patients should be prepared for the emotional reactions accompa-
nying unsuccessful treatment. At the end of treatment, the team and the patient(s) should discuss

the personal meaning of the loss of an important life goal (Sewell, 1999), but also the advantages

to the individual of a child-free life. The patients should be encouraged to find out what kind of

resources they themselves already have to cope with unsuccessful infertility treatment. This

could mean involving relatives or friends, or contacting self-help groups. One possibility is to

ask the patients whether it would be worthwhile for them to create their own bereavement ritual

to prevent a state of chronic, unresolved loss (Meyers et al., 1995), especially when miscarriages

and/or stillbirths have occurred (Lothrop, 1997). The decision to end treatment can be seen as a

way of regaining choices, independence and privacy in the patient(s) life (Anton, 1992). There is

no empirical evidence that child-free partnerships are more unhappy or more unstable in the

long term than the partnerships of patients with children.

<A>Typical issues

After unsuccessful medical treatment (e.g. in-vitro fertilisation or microinjection) patients may

press for continuing treatment. New techniques can provide new hope but also result in new

disappointment. The chances and the risks of new techniques should be discussed openly.

Patients quitting infertility treatment or going to another centre may disparage and/or devalue
some or all members of the team, so that psychological support offered by the team will not be


Patients may fall get into a communication trap in which the decision about ending treatment is

based on perceived or assumed feelings instead of their real feelings.

<A>Communication skills


Each member of the team should keep in mind the end of treatment at any stage. Each member

of the team should know the typical emotional reactions towards unsuccessful treatment (e.g.
depression, anxiety, poor self-image, feelings of unfulfilment) and should be open for discus-

sions about these feelings with the patients. Counsellors should point out that unexplained infer-

tility is not in most cases equivalent to psychogenic infertility. The counsellors should ensure that

the patients are fully aware of the success rate of the next step in medical treatment. A formal

ending is a helpful ritual to mark the patients ordeal, to discuss the changes that have taken place

and to discuss the future (Atwood & Dobkin, 1992; Meyers et al., 1995; Sewall, 1999). Inter-

viewing patients about their experiences in infertility treatment can be helpful to gain informa-

tion for better understanding future patients and can give the patients a positive appreciation.

Patients should be given the feeling that they have resolved their infertility to the best of their

ability, regardless of the point at which they ceased medical treatment. The counsellor should be

as neutral as possible towards the motivation to continue or abandon medical treatment. Not

using assisted reproduction technologies because of ethical or religious reasons should be ac-

cepted. Accurate information about the artificiality of ART should be given. The counsellor has

to explore whether the patients are under pressure from relatives or friends either to stop treat-

ment (you have to reduce this stress to get pregnant!) or to intensify treatment (e.g. for cultural

reasons, see Section 4.8). The counsellor should also accept and put forward for discussion the

different opinions partners may have concerning the end of medical treatment. The partner who

wants to stop treatment might wait for the other one who has not decided yet.


Typical questions at the beginning of the medical treatment include: What are you willing to do

to fulfil your wish for a child? How would you recognise that you have reached your limit in the

medical treatment? If medical treatment fails, how would your life look five years later? What

perspectives of living without a child of your own could you imagine?

Typical questions at the end of the medical treatment include: How has infertility shaped the way

you see life and yourself? In a positive and a negative way? How can you develop a ritual or

ceremony to say goodbye to your dream child? Now that you are at the end of treatment, what

are your recommendations for your doctors? What recommendations would you make to other
patients? What helped you in coping with infertility?


Anton, L. H. (1992) Never to Be a Mother. Harper, San Francisco.

Atwood, J. D. and Dobkin, S. (1992). Storm clouds are coming. Ways to help couples reconstruct

the crisis of infertility. Contemp. Fam. Therapy, 14, 385403.

Dunkel-Schetter, C. and Lobel, M. (1991) Psychological reactions to infertility. In: Stanton, A. L.

and Dunkel-Schetter, C. (eds.), Infertility (pp. 2957). Plenum Press, London and New York.

Lothrop, Hanna (1997). Help, Comfort and Hope After Losing Your Baby in Pregnancy or the
First Year. Fisher Books, Tucson, AZ.

Meyers, M., Weinshel, M., Scharf, C., Kezur, D., Diamond, R. and Douglas, R. S. (1995). An

infertility primer for family therapists. II: Working with couples who struggle with infertility.

Family Process, 34, 231240.

Sewall, G. (1999). Involuntary childlessness. Deciding to remain child-free. In: Burns, L. H. and

Covington, S. N. (eds.), Infertility Counseling. A Comprehensive Handbook for Clinicians

(pp. 411422). Parthenon, London and New York.

Wischmann, T., Stammer, H., Gerhard, I. and Verres, R. (in preparation). Psychological charac-

teristics of infertile couples and the effects of psychological counselling and couple-therapy.

Hum. Reprod.
Jolle Darwish


Sexuality and infertility are associated in different ways. First, as is well described in the litera-

ture (e.g. Hammer Burns, 1999; Greil et al., 1989) and obvious from clinical practice, sexual

functioning is a key aspect of individual experience and is particularly sensitive to infertility

crises. Second, sexual dysfunction may pre-date the diagnosis of infertility, be reinforced by

investigations and treatments or even cause infertility. Finally, sexual problems may be incidental

to infertility and due to a variety of reasons, as would be the case for fertile people. It is impor-

tant to note that the definition of sexual problems is subjective and culturally determined. Inves-

tigation should therefore carefully consider the ways in which the individuals perceive sexual

issues the team consider a problem.

<B>Sexual problems causing infertility

For a small percentage of infertile patients, sexual problems are the primary cause of infertility

and can be masquerading as cases of infertility: e.g. infrequent intercourse, vaginismus, dys-

pareunia, lack of sexual desire, erectile dysfunctions. These sexual problems may be of organic

and/or psychological origin.

<B>Sexual problems secondary to infertility

For a larger percentage of patients (1060%; see Mller, 1999), infertility may have various

repercussions on sexual functioning (e.g. lack of sexual desire, orgasmic dysfunctions), ranging

from episodic problems necessitating education and support, to sexual dysfunctions requiring

specialised treatment. Studies on this subject do not show homogeneous results: some find

evidence suggesting alteration of sexual functioning due to fertility problems, whereas others do

Sexual problems are often caused by the pressure associated with scheduled sex, by the psycho-

logical presence of the medical team in the patients intimacy and by the fact that intercourse

becomes goal-oriented and is itself a reminder of infertility (Greil at al., 1989; Hammer Burns,

1999). Some procedures such as the post-coital test are particularly involved in the impairment

of sexual functioning (Boivin et al., 1992).

In addition, the crisis of infertility alters self-esteem and body image, resulting in feelings such

as inferiority, depression and anxiety. These psychological repercussions may also have an effect

on sexuality.


The purpose of counselling is to bring aspects of sexuality into the consultation. On the one

hand, patients are encouraged to express their feelings and thoughts about sexuality and to share

their difficulties. The counsellor is thus able to identify these difficulties, to assist the patients to

work through them or to define adequate treatment. On the other hand, preventatively, the pa-
tients are informed that their sexuality is challenged during investigation and treatment. Helping

patients become aware of the common sexual problems associated with infertility can be thera-

peutic in itself and can allow for better coping.


The team should:

Open the discussion systematically on questions linked to sexuality, taking into account

gender differences.

Consider the significance and the severity of the sexual dysfunction for the individuals
themselves. Establish whether the sexual problems are pre-date and/or are secondary to

infertility. Take note of whether the sexual problems are induced by specific treatment proce-

dures. Evaluate if it is a transitory and reversible problem or a more long-lasting dysfunction.

In the first case, the counsellor can offer education and support. In the second, the counsellor

must, in addition, verify if there is a possible organic origin and propose adequate treatment.

Evaluate the psychological aspects associated with the infertility crisis having an effect on

sexuality (e.g. depression). When sexual problems are signs of long-standing individual or

relational disturbances, it is necessary to work through them or to refer patients further to a

psychologist, couple or sex therapist, preferably before the beginning of any infertility treat-


Help the patients rebuild their sexuality as a source of pleasure in the cases where sexuality

has become goal-orientated and very much based on performance (Tuschen-Caffier et al.,


<A>Typical issues

Opening the discussion about sexuality may be difficult both for the patients and for the counsel-

lor. If a trusting relationship is not yet established, the counsellors questions may be perceived

as too intrusive. One partner may want to discuss this theme while the other does not. Such a
difficulty can also be due to a variety of reasons, including social and cultural variables.

In the case of acknowledged sexual dysfunction, it may be hard for the counsellor to refer the

patients to a sex therapist, as there is frequently a lot of ambivalence. For example, couples want

to seek professional help for their sexual difficulties but at the same time they are fearful of the

possible consequences on their relationship as a couple.

An ethical dilemma emerges when sexual problems causing infertility are highlighted but when

the patients want to begin treatments without first trying to resolve their difficulties. In these

cases, the team must decide whether to treat or not.

<A>Communication skills

The counsellor, if not qualified to provide sex therapy, should nevertheless have acquired spe-

cialised knowledge in the field of sexuality linked to infertility. S/he should also be able to ask

the relevant questions about sexual behaviour sensitively.

The counsellor should be able to refer patients to appropriate specialists in case of acknowledged

sexual problems requiring treatment (sex therapy, medical investigation, etc.).

Typical questions may include: How would you describe your sexuality as it was at the begin-

ning of your relationship? Have you noted any changes since your fertility problem has been

defined? If you have noted changes, what do they signify for you? How do you evaluate the

influence of the procedures and/or treatment on your sexuality? How satisfied are you with your

sexual life?


Boivin, J., Takefman, J. E., Brender, W. and Tulandi, T. (1992). The effects of female sexual

response in coitus on early reproductive processes. Journal of Behavioral Medicine,

15(5), 509518.

Greil, A. L., Porter, K. L. and Leisko, T. A. (1989). Sex and intimacy among infertile couples.

Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, 2(4), 117138.

Hammer Burns, L. (1999). Sexual counseling and infertility. In: Hammer Burns, L. and

Covington, S. N. (eds.), Infertility Counseling. A Comprehensive Handbook for Clini-

cians (pp. 149176). Parthenon, London and New York.

Mller, A. (1999). Infertility and Sexuality. An Overview of Literature and Clinical Practice.

Paper presented at the 15th Annual Meeting of the European Society of Human Repro-
duction and Embryology, Tours, France.

Tuschen-Caffier, B., Florin, I., Krause, W. and Pook, M. (1999). Cognitive-behavioral therapy

for idiopathic infertile couples. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 68(1), 1521.

Heribert Kentenich


At present, the countries of the European Union are home to around 17 million people of foreign

origin, of whom two-thirds originate from countries outside the EU. The proportion of immi-

grants in the individual EU states in the mid-1990s varied between 1% (e.g. Portugal) and 29%

(Luxembourg) (Council of Europe, 1994; Salt et al., 1994).

It can therefore be expected, especially in large urban clinics, that a proportion of fertility pa-

tients will be immigrants. Indeed, in some gynaecological hospitals in major cities or industrial

regions almost half the patients are of migrant backgrounds. Physicians and counsellors are

frequently overtaxed when having to take into consideration the individual desires of patients-in-

migration and the possible influences of a foreign religion, culture and ethnicity on their wish

for a child. Particular sociocultural conditions (migration, social isolation, ghetto-like living

conditions, the particular importance of having offspring, the stigma associated with lack of

children) make involuntary childlessness among patients in migration more challenging and

complicated than for other patients.

In many cultures infertility leads to social isolation for the patients and especially for women as

in some cultures women are seen to be responsible for childlessness regardless of the actual

cause of the fertility problem.


The purpose of counselling include:

Explaining very carefully the necessary diagnostic and therapeutic procedures to the patients
and to accompany and support them in every step;

Creating an atmosphere open to and respecting of ethnic, sociocultural and religious particu-

larities; and

Assisting in translating and interpreting, for which written and supplementary visual materi-

als aiding in the doctorpatient dialogue are helpful.


Possible objectives are:

Understanding the meaning of infertility in the cultural setting, and encouraging the patients

to talk about the cultural background of infertility;

Making diagnosis and therapy both accessible and respectful of the patients sociocultural


Providing fertility clinics with a network of translators/interpreters, who should be either

professional translators/interpreters or members of the team who are native speakers; and

Providing female gynaecologists and female counsellors for some patients for whom a male

gynaecologist would not be allowed to examine female patients.

<A>Typical issues

Often the infertility problem is even more pressing abroad than in the native country because of

ghetto-like living conditions. When the patients are abroad, the wish for a child has greater

individual importance (David et al., 2000). Migrants are often threatened by unemployment and

the majority have lower-class backgrounds. For them the fulfilment of the wish for a child may

be a more important life goal than for their fellow citizens.

Because of the lower educational level of many migrants, there is often little understanding of

bodily functions, the causes of the fertility problem or of the treatment options available. Educat-

ing and information-giving are therefore important components of counselling with migrant

patients. This lack of understanding can manifest itself in different ways for example the cause
of infertility may be ignored or it may be kept secret from one of the partners (e.g., in the use of

donor gametes). Health care providers must evaluate patients understanding of the information

provided and ensure it is inline with the information given.

It should also be noted that patients from the same foreign country may also differ among them-

selves with regard to class and ethnic or cultural traditions. Health care providers must therefore

ensure that patients from the same country are not treated as a homogeneous group. Patients

with mixed national or ethnic backgrounds (about 50% of all patients in migration) can experi-

ence the acculturation process in a different way.

In patients who feel a high intrapsychic pressure to become pregnant, there is a tendency to

demand and persist with invasive methods. There is a great responsibility on the part of the

physician to prevent over-treatment in such cases.

Gender differences must be taken into account. In many cultures the question of conception and

infertility is not regarded as a joint problem affecting the couple, as it is in Western cultural

circles; rather it is considered almost completely a womans problem. This can lead to feelings of

shame in women and men. In some cultures, questions of sexuality cannot be discussed between

men and women. The patients should be asked whether they would prefer a male or a female

counsellor to discuss these issues.

Masturbation is not socially acceptable in some cultures. This must be taken into account when

dealing with difficulties regarding producing the semen sample.

The professional capacities and medical knowledge of the translators/interpreters in the clinical

environment is highly significant. The use of children for translating/interpreting is particularly

problematic, due the issues of privacy and shame involved with infertility.

Migrating patients are often younger than other infertile patients (David et al., 2000). Among

such patients both the rate of spontaneous pregnancies and the rate of multiples following treat-
ment is higher, despite the existing infertility problems. This should be taken into consideration

in every ovarian stimulation treatment.

<A>Communication skills

An open atmosphere should be created to allow for addressing cultural issues in the clinical

setting. Training native speakers in the team in counselling for infertility is vital.

The production and availability of information brochures/videos/internet in the different lan-

guages is also important. Videos and pictures are of major importance, as 1020% of the patients

are illiterate.


Council of Europe (1994). Recent Demographic Developments in Europe. Council of Europe

Press, Strasburg.

David, M., Yksel, E. and Kentenich, H. (2000). The desire to have children and migration. On

the psychosocial situation of infertile Turkish couples in Germany. Hum. Reprod. (in


Salt, J. et al. (1994). Europes International Migrants. HMSO, London.

Ken R. Daniels


Donor insemination (DI) is the oldest of the medical interventions designed as a response to

infertility. It is not so much a treatment for infertility as a means of circumventing infertility;

that is, the male partner remains infertile despite the birth of a child. The fact that it is the female

who is inseminated with sperm from a man other than her partner means that the medical atten-

tion is focused on her she is, in effect, receiving treatment for her partners condition. For the

infertile partner, DI represents significant challenges to his role as a male. The involvement of

another male usually identified as a donor raises issues concerning how the three parties

view themselves, their roles and their relationships and this, in turn, will have an impact on any

offspring that result from the treatment.

Traditionally the relationships have been mediated by the medical professionals who have re-

quired, advised or encouraged secrecy and anonymity between the patients, the donor and the

resultant child. This culture of secrecy extended to the offspring with most not being told of the

nature of their conception. The culture surrounding DI has changed dramatically over the past 20

years. The examination of the relationships between the various parties involved infertile

patients, provider of semen, offspring and medical professionals has led to changed policies

and practices in some countries. These changes have major implications for the provision of

counselling services.

Counselling in DI focuses on two different parties the couple or single person who is seeking

DI and the man who provides his semen. While the general purpose of counselling providing

support, considering implications and being available for therapeutic work will apply to both

parties, the issues that give rise to the counselling will be very different.

For those seeking to use DI, the emphasis is on family creation. This point has been reached only

after acknowledgement that a third party will be necessary to assist them in achieving their aim.

There are normally feelings of loss associated with not being able to accomplish this without

assistance. The purpose of counselling includes exploring the meanings of this loss along with

the implications of using DI as an alternative means of family creation.

For the donor, the purpose of counselling will include consideration of the meanings associated

with providing his gametes to and for someone else. A particular consideration will be the impli-

cations of this action for his present, or any future, family. Exploration of the expectations/

requirements regarding the sharing of information between the involved parties will also be part

of the purpose of counselling.

At a more specific level, Klock and Maier (1991) have suggested that the purpose of counselling

includes a consideration of:

legal issues,

risk of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV infection,

parenting roles,

informing others and

religious and cultural considerations.

Given the advent of patients using identified donors (sometimes known as personal donors), they

suggested that the following matters also needed to be considered as part of counselling for this

latter group:

effects on family dynamics,

informing others,

donor coercion and

donor interview.

Anderson and Alesi (1998) have also given consideration to this area and have divided their

suggestions into those applying to anonymous donations and those to known donations. They

work in Victoria, Australia, where legislation requires counselling for patients and for the donor

and his spouse or partner (if applicable). In addition to the points made by Klock and Maier

(1991), they suggest that psychological screening for anonymous donors should include assess-

ment of


realistic expectations,

psychiatric illness and

drug use.

For known donors the additional points that should be considered are:

future relationships with participants,

future relationships with child,

emotional aspects of relationship to child,

telling child,

confidentiality with other parties,

number of planned donations and

implications of negative outcome of treatment.


The primary objective of counselling is to try to ensure that all parties benefit from the use of DI.

Recognition of the psychosocial dimensions of family building using DI, as well as the factors

that lead to the need to use DI, is an essential element in achieving this goal.

Clinic policies vary considerably on the issue of when and if counselling should be recom-

mended or mandatory. In some situations all couples or single applicants are expected to be seen,

while in others a decision will be made by staff, either singly or jointly, as to who should be

referred to the counsellor. The latter policy is likely to be applied when a clinic views the func-

tion of counselling to be primarily therapeutic. This means that only those who are deemed (by

those not trained in psychological assessment) to be psychologically in need of assistance will

see a counsellor.

An alternative model, proposed by Mahlstedt and Greenfeld (1989) argues that all applicants

should be seen by a counsellor with the focus being on preparation for parenthood involving

third-party reproduction. If implications counselling is to receive attention, this will include

psychosocial considerations and this should be handled by an appropriately qualified person.

In some clinics, all providers of semen are expected to see a counsellor, again with the objective

of fully informed consent and consideration of the impact of donating. This may well include

seeing those who are significant to the donor, e.g. his spouse/partner. Consideration in such

counselling will also extend to any current children or future children of the donor.

<A>Typical issues

At the clinic level, there may be reluctance from staff to acknowledge this; they may prefer to

see DI as a straightforward medical treatment.

There may also be reluctance on the part of those seeking DI and by the donor to recognise the

psychosocial issues. This may arise partly from their desire to see the procedure as a medical

fix for their problem. They may also equate psychosocial considerations and counsellors with

therapeutic work and be fearful of this. They may also fear that they are being assessed for their

suitability to parent. Assessment is felt to be an unjustified intrusion into the marital relationship

by some patients, and they are therefore reluctant to take part in it.

This is an area of serious tension in the field of DI. Those who argue for assessment cite their

concern for the welfare of the future child. They argue that such assessment takes place in the

field of adoption and should be used in DI as well. Those who argue against assessment suggest

that this will compromise any therapeutic work and will certainly lead participants to be less

open in counselling.

Discussion of future family relationships, and particularly the issue of talking to children about

the nature of their conception, can also present challenges. An infertile couple, for example, may

not be able to consider issues arising appropriately if they do not know if they will have a child.

It is suggested that the counselling should be provided at pre-intervention, intervention and post-

intervention stages. The provision of post-intervention counselling raises issues for counsellors

and clinics in that most counselling has tended to be offered while participants are involved with

a clinic.

Underlying a number of the issues raised above are the questions of the offspring being told of

the method of their conception and if they are, having access to information concerning their

conception. The functioning of a family that is based on the deliberate decision to withhold

information (which many would argue offspring have a right to) and to practise secrecy must be

a matter of concern for any person with an awareness of the psychosocial impact of secrets.

There can be little doubt that this is an important issue facing clinics, recipient patients, donors
and, of course, counsellors.

Another issue for consideration is the counselling focus that should apply when the recipient is

single or a lesbian couple. This also has implications for the donor, especially given that a grow-

ing number of clinics allow donors to choose which categories of recipients may receive their


<A>Communication skills

All skills involved in professional counselling are required. Given that counselling is likely to

involve working with more than one person, skills in couple and family work are essential.


Anderson, J. and Alesi, R. (1998). Donor issues. In: Infertility Counsellors Seminar, 12th Janu-

ary 1998. Melbourne, unpublished.

Klock, S. C. and Maier, D. (1991). Guidelines for the provision of psychological evaluations for

infertile patients at the University of Connecticut Health Center. Fertility and Sterility, 56,

Mahlstedt, P. P. and Greenfeld, D. A. (1989). Assisted reproductive technology with donor gam-

etes. The need for patient preparation. Fertility and Sterility, 52, 908914.
Patricia Baetens


Oocyte donation provides a solution for infertile women with ovarian problems, such as primary

or premature ovarian failure. In addition, women with normal ovarian function may require

oocyte donation, for instance, in the case of recurrent failure of in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treat-

ment. Some of these problems are age-related.

The main problem is shortage of donor oocytes. The donation of oocytes, as opposed to sperm

donation, involves invasive medical treatment of the donor. As a consequence, not many women

are willing to donate anonymously. In order to avoid a long waiting period, different procedures

to recruit oocyte donors are proposed, such as egg-sharing and the recruitment of a donor by the

patients themselves.


<B>Voluntary oocyte donors

According to Englert (1996), occasional donors are psychologically fragile women, looking for

recognition or massive self-repair. Similar features were found in other research where voluntary

oocyte donors reported histories of family trauma or reproductive trauma. The trauma is often

the reason why women are able to identify with the loss experienced by the woman who is in

need of donor oocytes.

Englert (1996) fears the risk of disrupting an unstable psychological balance and would, there-

fore, exclude some occasional donors. On the other hand, Schover et al. (1991) believe that,

when issues of loss are examined and when the expectations of the donor are realistic, the proc-
ess of helping another women can be reparative. Counsellors have to be very cautious because

traumas may cause psychological distress and extra support may be necessary in this stressful

medical procedure. In some cases where the distress caused by trauma is considerable, it might

be in the donors interest to postpone or even cancel the treatment.

<B>Oocyte donation with a donor recruited by the patients

In some centres the recipient patients can choose between two types of donation: known dona-

tion (i.e. treatment with the oocytes of the donor recruited by the patients) or anonymous dona-

tion (i.e. exchange of the oocytes of the donor recruited by the patients with those of a donor

recruited by another patient(s) in order to ensure anonymity between donors and recipients). The

aim of the counselling is not to enforce certain decisions but to guide the decision-making proc-

ess regarding the kind of donation to be used (Baetens et al. 2000). Attention should also be paid

to possible psychological consequences of this decision.


Ahuja et al. (1996) introduced egg-sharing using IVF patients. IVF patients seem ideal donors

since there is no supplementary medical risk. In this system, donors share their oocytes with an

anonymous recipient. In return, recipients share the costs of the treatment of the donor. Neverthe-
less, some believe that an ethical problem might arise in cases where the recipient woman con-

ceives and gives birth to a child while the donor herself does not conceive. According to Ahuja et

al. (1996), an unsuccessful IVF treatment cycle will always cause distress and there is no indica-

tion that this is more upsetting for the patient who has been a donor. This procedure is often the

only solution for women over 40 who are unable to recruit a donor because the members of their

peer group are not suitable as donors.


<B>Voluntary oocyte donors

The counsellor(s) should:

Inform oocyte donor extensively about the treatment procedure, the consequences for her

personal life during the treatment and the risks;

Evaluate the motivation of the oocyte donor, her ability to cope with the uncertainties and

stress in a donor cycle and the expectations she has about the donation and whether these are


Inform the donor about the use of oocytes in general and the importance of sustaining her

commitment without putting pressure on her; and

Evaluate consent and support of the donors partner.

<B>Oocyte donation with a donor recruited by the patients

The counsellor should: (Baetens et al. 2000)

Guide the decision-making process for known or anonymous donation and discuss the conse-
quences of this choice for the recipients, the donor and the child;

Evaluate the motivation of the donor, and verify whether the donor understands the bounda-

ries of her role and whether she is fully capable and free of any kind of coercion in giving

informed consent;

Evaluate the motivation of the recipients for known or anonymous donation, and check

whether this choice is not made due to pressure from the donor and whether they understand

the boundaries of the donors role;

Counsel on secrecy/openness towards the social environment and the consequences of this

decision; and

Counsel on secrecy/openness towards the child and the consequences of both.


The counsellor should:

Evaluate with the donor the consequences of the donation on their own treatment. Counsel

donors on the consequences of an anonymous gift. Special attention should be paid to pa-

tients who donate because of financial need. Their freedom to consent is restricted by this


Recipients of egg-sharing should be counselled on the consequences of anonymous donation.

Furthermore, they should be counselled on the possibility that donor cannot be matched

except for ethnicity and should be prepared for a waiting period. Recipients should also be

informed that if the donor does not have the required number of oocytes needed in this proce-

dure the treatment will be postponed.

<A>Typical issues

<B>Voluntary donors

The risk of drop-out just before or even during the treatment is considerable. The recipient

patients need to be prepared for the possibility that no oocytes will be available.

<B>Oocyte donation with a donor recruited by the patients

Criticism of known donation focuses mainly upon the role of the donor towards the child to be

born after oocyte donation. Donors are often presented as a kind of third parent. Nevertheless,

donors did not make a decision to have a child themselves; they only provided the infertile

patients with the means to fulfil their wish for a child. Considering the donor to be a parent

conflicts with the boundaries of her role in this project.

In the anonymous procedure, recipients and donors can often not be matched except for ethnicity.

Knowing that sometimes donors cannot be matched might influence the mothers relationship to

the child. Mothers might search for differences and similarities between their child and them-
selves and be afraid that the social environment might see that the child is not genetically related

to her. Anonymity has an influence: first, during pregnancy, when the image of the baby to be

born is not complete; and, second, after the child is born, when parents and children can be

confronted with questions about the donor that cannot be answered. The question of whether

secrecy is harmful or beneficial has not really been studied. Many of the patients questions

remain unanswered.

In cases of known donation, openness towards the child can have consequences for the donor

and her family. Children might seek information on the donor and her family and this might

affect the relationships and dynamics in the family of the donor.

Counsellors should also decide on the desirability of counselling donors and recipients together

or separately. A joint session reinforces in some cases the view of donors and recipient on oocyte

donation as a common project of two women in order to help one woman to become pregnant. In

these cases donors are confronted with a multiple-patient situation requiring a systemic and

dynamic approach of the counsellor. It is sometimes preferable to consider donors and recipients

as two separate entities, especially if donors and recipients wish to reduce the dependency of the

recipients. In these cases counsellors can focus on the specific contribution of each women

involved in the treatment and evaluate whether the expectations of each participant are concord-



A minimum number of oocytes is required in an egg-sharing cycle. If this number is not reached,

patients who agreed to donate to finance their treatment are confronted with financial problems.

The peer group of woman over 40 is not suitable for finding an oocyte donor. Egg-sharing is

often the last solution for them, but at the same time they also have the feeling that there is not

much time left to become a parent. Being put on a waiting list may be very difficult for them.
In some countries, law prohibits oocyte donation. Counsellors in neighbouring countries fre-

quently receive patients who have travelled abroad. They should respect cultural differences and

help patients to deal with their feelings of doing something illegal and with their fear for the

consequences for themselves as (pregnant) parents and for the child.

Oocyte donation is a treatment that is often suggested because of age-related fertility problems,

forcing fertility centres to decide on difficult issues such as a reasonable age limit for the treat-

ment of the woman who wishes to become pregnant.

In families where more children are born after oocyte donation with different oocyte donors,

counsellors should help patients to cope with this multigenetic origin of the children.


Ahuja, K., Simons, E., Fiamanya, W. et al. (1996). Egg-sharing in assisted conception. Ethical

and practical considerations. Hum. Reprod., 11, 11261131.

Baetens, P., Devroey, P., Camus, M. et al. (2000). Counselling couples and donors for oocyte

donation. The decision to use either known or anonymous oocytes. Hum. Reprod., 15,

Englert, Y. (1996). Ethics of oocyte donation are challenged by the health care system. Hum.

Reprod., 11, 23532355.

Schover, L., Collins, R., Quigley, M. et al. (1991). Psychological follow-up of women evaluated

as oocyte donors. Hum. Reprod., 10, 14871491.

Timothy C. Appleton

<A> Introduction

Embryo donation is indicated where there are severe male factor problems (azoospermia or asper-

mia) which are not amenable to treatment. It is also indicated when there are no existing oocytes,

existing oocytes are of poor quality or when there has been repeated failure of in vitro fertilisation

(IVF) treatment. In embryo donation the recipients are unlikely to have a genetic relationship to

any children who might result from embryo donation. Embryo donation can be achieved in two


1. Using a combination of egg and sperm donation - such donors should already

have been properly counselled.

2. Using spare cryopreserved embryos from patients who have already been successful

and have consented to the donation of their remaining embryos


The implications for counselling are similar to egg and sperm donation in (1) - where both partners

have no genetic relationship to the embryo - but require additional care in (2), where counselling is

necessary for both donors and recipients. Counselling should be available to help all the parties

concerned understand the implications of embryo donation for themselves and for the future chil-

dren, be comfortable with what they are undertaking and have the strengths and resources to move


There must be sufficient space and time for them to explore their own feelings on the treatment

<A> Objective

Counselling should provide sufficient background information for all concerned to make their

own choices and to be able to make informed consent.


Those patients who decide that they wish to donate their embryos to

another couple rather than allow them to die or be used for research will need to consider:

whether they are quite sure they will not want the embryos for future siblings

for any existing children?

how they feel about the real possibility that there may be other children alive

sometime in the future who are the result of their own genetic material;

what sorts of people need embryo donation;

not knowing (perhaps) whether the donation has been successful or not;


fully informed consent must be obtained from both donors and recipients.


Recipients of donor embryos may have specific concerns such as

Has adequate health screening (e.g., HIV, hepatitis, karyotyping for chromo-

somes abnormalities) of donors been carried out? Is there any incidence of

physical, mental and/or genetic disorders within the family?

What is the intelligence, social background of the donors etc?

What are the motives of the donors? Were they paid?

Will any children born seem out of character with the recipients and other

members of the family?

Must they, or should they, tell the child, born as a result of embryo donation

the facts?

Confidentiality will they be able to know the identity of donors? In most

countries complete confidentiality is observed; in others (e.g. Sweden), the

child has the right to know the identity of the donors.

<A>Typical issues

Embryo donation is a comparatively new possibility. Donations have been forthcoming only

after some time has elapsed after the creation of embryos stored by Cryopreservation. Patients

will be asked at the time of freezing embryos what their preferences, are should they die within

the storage interval: i.e. allow the embryos to die, donate them to another couple or donate them

for research. In some countries these options may not be available in law. Couples who choose

to allow their spare embryos to die often ask for some form of disposal ceremony, which may

or may not be in a religious form. Whilst the patients may not consider their embryos as persons

they frequently do see them as living entities which have some potential, therefore there is often

a need for a sensitive end to that potentiality.

Four problems have emerged, however:

1. Some donating couples have found it difficult to accept that there may be

children alive (resulting from their embryo donation) who might show similar

characteristics to their own children: some have expressed the fear of looking

at children almost expecting to recognise such similarities. Some potential

donors have not been able to feel comfortable with donating their embryos

and have opted for their destruction. Others have felt more confident when it

has been possible for the donated embryos to be used at a well separated

geographical location. Pre-donation counselling is essential

2. Most clinics would feel that they couldnt offer embryo donation if the num-

bers of cryopreserved embryos is less than three since this gives the recipients

a poor chance of success. For those patients who have strong feelings that

they wish to give their spare embryos every chance of life, this can be very


3. The ability to accept embryo donation is not always equal on both sides of the

gender divide. It is often the male partner who has the most difficulty in

accepting the possibility of embryo donation - The woman has the compensa-

tion of carrying the child and giving birth.

4. Recipients are often concerned about how they should tell their child about

his/her conception if they decide to do so? Childrens storybooks are available

to help them in that task (e.g., Appleton, 1999).

<A>Communication Skills

Counsellors will need the same skills as in any fertility counselling. In order to maintain confi-
dentiality they will need to take particular care; a wise precaution may be to keep the matching

of donors and recipients separate from the counselling process.


Appleton, T. (1999a) My Beginnings A Very Special Story, The IFC Resource Centre, Cam-

Timothy C. Appleton


Surrogacy has been described as an emotional and ethical minefield, that is putting human nature

under pressure. In most countries in Europe it is banned, in many others it is not practised, and

only the United Kingdom(UK) and Israel openly allow for surrogacy. In the United States it is

practised more frequently in the Western part of the country.

It can be undertaken in two ways:

1. By artificial insemination of the surrogate - so that she will be carrying a

child, derived from her eggs. Very often no clinic or doctor is involved and a

do it yourself surrogacy comes about - often without any counselling.

2. By in vitro fertilisation (IVF), in which the embryos are transferred to the

uterus of the surrogate; she is therefore carrying a child with no genetic

relationship to her. Clinics will usually provide extensive counselling and

support. Many will refer each case to an ethics committee for approval

before proceeding


Counsellors often find it difficult to provide assessments about their patients. Yet in surrogacy

there will always be some element of assessment involved in the work of the counsellor; to some

extent this can be mitigated by separating the counsellors role from that of the person(s) who

must make the decision on whether a particular case of surrogacy should proceed.
The objectives are therefore directed in two directions:

1. To help all those involved understand all the implications involved (see the

Typical issues subsection below), to draw upon their own resources and to

cope with the uncertainties involved. This will include:

the commissioning couple,

the surrogate, her partner/husband if applicable and any existing

children of the commissioning couple or of the surrogate,

the wider circle of families, friends and work colleagues, and

the health care professionals, particularly those involved in the

handing over of the child at birth.

2. To relay to those who must make the decision as to whether the case can pro-

ceed - with the consent of all involved:

that there is sufficient confidence that the case is built upon a sound and

trusting relationship between the commissioning couple and the surrogate;

that there is an adequate support structure to help them through the diffi-

cult times ahead, and for as long as is needed or is possible;

that the welfare of any existing children, or prospective child, has been

taken into account;

that an adoption procedure or a change in parentage can take place;


that the aggregate of foreseeable hazards is not too great for any of the

parties including existing or future child/children.

<A>Typical issues

There are several areas which will need to be explored and which may raise problems in the

future. Counsellors may be needed for many years to help all the parties through the issues

involved including:

The relationship between commissioning couple and surrogate in the UK

about 50% of the cases are between relatives and friends; the remainder

between people who did not originally know each other but who have spent

some time together, so that there is understanding and trust.

Marital status most commissioning couples are either married or are in a

stable relationship, while some surrogates are single, divorced or separated.

Care is needed to establish that there is sufficient family support in all surro-

gacy undertakings.

Indications for surrogacy include hysterectomy either as a result of complica-

tions in a previous pregnancy/labour (often with the loss of a baby) or as a

result of cancer diagnosis and surgery/therapy, genetic absence of the uterus,

repeated failed infertility treatment, repeated miscarriages or ectopic pregnan-

cies. The reasons for needing surrogacy are distressing. Social reasons for

surrogacy (e.g. busy life-style, etc.) are not usually acceptable to clinics.

Motives of surrogate most surrogates have seen the distress which child-

lessness causes in their friend, are grateful for their own experiences of

parenting and want to help others less fortunate. Sometimes the motives may

be financial and counsellors must be sensitive to those possibilities.

The effect of surrogacy on any existing or future children must be considered

the welfare of children must be taken into account whether they are in the

family of the surrogate or the commissioning couple. The arrangement for

surrogacy should not proceed if a child in the surrogates family finds the

idea of surrogacy offensive.

The legal situation must be taken into account. In those countries where the
initiation of surrogacy is illegal, it may not be illegal to have a child born as

a result of surrogacy. Many patients will seek help in countries such as the

United Kingdom or USA. Counsellors will need to help patients establish a

proper legal framework for the future of any children born through surrogacy

before a surrogacy pregnancy is initiated.

Surrogate mothers are initially clear in their own minds that the child they are

carrying is either wholly genetically that of the commissioning couple or

partly so.

Surrogacy which involves donor gametes may present additional problems

for commissioning parents and the children parenthood then becomes diffi-

cult to define and may involve: genetic mother, social mother, birth mother

and her partner, genetic father, social father).

Handing over the child and bonding. Surrogate mothers expect that the child

will be handed over at birth so that there is minimal physical contact leading

to bonding. A surrogate will never be able to forget that they have given birth

to another child who they have given to the commissioning couple. Any

regrets should be compensated by the knowledge of happiness they have

given the commissioning couple.

Registration of the child there will need to be some form of parental change

in law or adoption procedures which may involve inter-country boundaries.

Complication in pregnancy and postnatal depression. No pregnancy is im-

mune from complications and with surrogacy there is no child as compensa-


Abnormalities with possibilities of termination of pregnancy can occur and

cause distress to all the parties concerned.

Failure of treatment (a miscarriage) is particularly distressing. Surrogacy

arrangements between friends or relatives can cause particular emotional

problems. In surrogacy arrangements where there is no such tie the distress

may be mitigated by being able to walk way from the situation; this is not

possible between friends and relatives.

Future access/contact to the child by the surrogate must be considered.

Within families and friends there will inevitably be further contact between

birth mother and child. Surrogate mothers will need sensitivity and often help

in handling this situation.

Expense v. payment. In Europe payment for adoption/surrogacy presents

legal problems in changing parentage. It is often difficult to distinguish be-

tween genuine expenses paid and what is effectively a payment for services.

Courts may need some evidence of what payments have been made.

Telling the child? The complications of family relationships in surrogacy are

such that the child will have to be told about their conception and birth. In

most countries the adoption and parental change arrangements will mean that

the child has the right to their original birth certificate on reaching 18 years of


<A>Communication skills

In addition to the usual skills of infertility counselling, the counsellor in surrogacy must have a

detailed knowledge of all the issues in surrogacy and the legal situation which exists in the
country in question. Legal knowledge is necessary because there will be procedures which may

involve adoption after the birth of the child. In many cases successful parents are so delighted

with the outcome that they may forget what those procedures are and they may well need further

contact with the counsellor to remind themselves of the proper steps forward. Counsellors may

need a couples permission to divulge to the courts the fact that they were counselled.

Good information in the form of booklets often provides a reference which parent can refer to at

a later stage. There should be the opportunity for good follow up counselling and an awareness

for all the parties concerned that further counselling support will be available for commissioning

couples, the children and the-surrogates for as long as they may need it.
Counsellors must be aware themselves of their role in surrogacy and be clear that the couples

understand that role.

Brinsden, P.R., Appleton, T.C., Murray, E., Hussein, M., Akabousu, F., Marcus, S.F. (2000).

Treatment by in vitro fertilisation with surrogacy: experience of one British Centre. British

Medical Journal 320: 924-929

British Medical Association (1996). Changing conception of motherhood: The practice of Surro-

gacy. London

Appleton, T (2000). Surrogacy. Cambridge: The IFC Resource Centre.

Judith Baron


The adoption of children is one route to achieving full legal parenthood. However this relation-

ship with the child may not be an exclusive one because in some European countries there are

systems of open adoption where the natural parents still have rights of access to their child. For

example in the United Kingdom an adoption order will transfer all legal rights of parenthood to

adoptive parents including inheritance but the natural parents may have rights of contact by letter

or in person. Obviously this would not satisfy those people for example, searching for a tight

nuclear family or a close exclusive relationship with their child.

Adoption is also available to those who are not infertile and who have no medical problems; this

means that any person with infertility problems has competition and faces additional assessment

for the smaller number of children requiring a permanent home. Such applicants are at further

disadvantage as they may not be able to demonstrate successful parenting skills. These are

particularly important as the children available nowadays are likely to be older or have special


Prior to the 1980s adoption, along with surrogacy and artificial insemination with donor or

husband sperm were the major route to achieving parenthood for those with infertility problems.

Since that time, scientific advance in the field of reproduction, along with changing social atti-

tudes and greater state support for parents, has meant that those people who would previously

have placed a child for adoption now keep the child instead. Thus adoption is no longer an

easily available route to parenthood for most people in Europe. Some choose to adopt from

countries that are still dealing with considerable social problems and cultural change. However,

these routes too are becoming more difficult to use. This is either because the receiving country

is aware of the difficulties the deprived children face and the extra parenting skills the adopters

need, or because the countries in which the children were born have developed the services and

cultural awareness to wish to keep their own citizens.


The purpose of counselling when adoption is under consideration is to provide a confidential and

secure environment in which the loss and adjustment reaction to medical problems can take

place. Through counselling the patient(s) can assess whether or not they wish to pursue adoption

as a course of action, and in particular address the change of focus from their own needs, biologi-

cal and emotional, to the needs of an existing child with no physical or genetic link to them.

They can also be directed to information and services specific to the laws of the country in which

they reside, and referred to specialist counselling in this field. Research in the UK has shown

that poor adoption outcome can be related to the adoptive parents not having dealt adequately

with the loss of their own reproductive potential and not having moved the focus of their atten-

tion from their own needs to those of the child.


The objectives are for the patient(s) to make an informed decision on whether or not to pursue

adoption, to facilitate their change of focus and move to an alternative route to parenthood away

from medical treatment, to be informed of State practice and to be better placed to meet the
needs of any child who might be placed with them for adoption as the child moves through life.

<A>Typical issues

A number of issues have been highlighted by those working in the field of adoption and are

matters which is felt should routinely be addressed in good adoption practice and counselling

prior to a couple receiving a child.

A child could become idealised as the new parents project on to that child all the

expectations of what a natural child could have been for those parents. Dreams and

wishes could centre on a child who comes, for example, with the problems of low
achievement or experiences of loss and low self-esteem. A child could be set up to

fail and trauma and rejection can come about (Brebner, Sharp & Stone, 1985).

Some couples come to adoption at different points in the process of adjustment to the

losses that come with the diagnosis of infertility. If this happens there is the possibil-

ity of marital disharmony or a lack of bonding with one of the adoptive parents

(Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists, 2000).

There may be an existing family. This would occur in secondary infertility or in the

case of a remarriage. In these instances the expectations of older children about such

matters as the disruption to their lives need to be taken into account. It could also be

that previous children believe they are not sufficient to meet their parents needs and

that they have failed their parents in some way.

Some infertile people find it difficult to make the adjustment to considering the needs

of children waiting for adoptive parents. For many months or years they have been

concentrating on their own needs and treatment and it is difficult to focus on the

needs of a small child who will grow to adulthood with needs and wishes of their own

(Triseliotis, 1973).

There are patients for whom the loss of self image as a parent to their own child

means they deny an adopted child information about the circumstances of their birth

or deny access to birth parents. This can lead to adopted children feeling angry or

poorly adjusted in later life (Triseliotis, 1973).

An adopted child from another culture or ethnic group requires parents who can help

the child manage its differences with the group in which it is raised. This means that

the parents need to understand issues of difference, unintended or intended racism, as

well as be prepared to help their child with identity problems that may arise

(Thoburn, Norford, & Rashid, 2000).

When discussing adoption the counsellor needs to be clear that although this is a

potential non medical route to parenthood there are few children to adopt and failure

may happen once more. The number of children for adoption alone is not the only

reason they may not achieve their goal. They will now face the possibility of being

assessed on social and personal grounds and this can be even more distressing for

some people than finding out they have a medical problem over which they have no


This route to parenthood will take the prospective parents out of the model of care

proposed earlier in the Guidelines (see Section 3) and as a result the continuity of care

and follow-up could be compromised.

<A>Communication skills

All the communication and counselling skills described in Section 3 are relevant and should be

possessed by the counsellor to the highest standard available in the relevant country and not

based on the personal view of the counsellor.

In this particularly sensitive area of transfer from a medical to a social route to achieve parent-

hood it is particularly important that the decision to change a course of action is based on infor-

mation and education on what might lie ahead for the prospective parents.


Brebner, C. Sharp, J. and Stone, F. (1985). The Role of Infertility in Adoption.

British Association for Adoption and Fostering, London.

Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (RCOG) (2000). The Management of Infertil-

ity in Tertiary Care (pp. 14-21). RCOG : London

Thoburn, J. Norford, L. and Rashid, S. (2000). Permanent Placement for Children of Minority
Ethnic Origin. Jessica Kingsley, London

Triseliotis, J. (1973). In Search of Origins: The Experiences of Adopted People. Routledge and

Kegan Paul, London

Patricia Baetens


Donor insemination (DI) may provide an answer for women who wish to become pregnant

without a male partner. In such requests there is, in general, no fertility problem in the medical

sense of the word. The treatment is justified more on social than on medical grounds since these

requests are motivated not by the infertility of but by the absence of a male partner.

However, the controversial nature of these requests cannot be ignored. Consequently, many

fertility centres do not accept lesbian couples for treatment. The absence of the influence of a

father figure and the homosexuality of the mother(s) are supposed to have a negative impact on

the childs development, especially where the psychosexual and social development is con-

cerned. Research concerning children raised in this type of family does not support these as-

sumptions (Brewaeys, 1997).


A request from a lesbian couple for DI has very specific implications that cannot be compared to

those of single mothers or heterosexual couples. The homosexual partners have a common wish

to raise a child from birth in their family. They share the educational responsibility for the child.

Since they will reveal the DI origin to the child, parents and children have to deal with the ano-

nymity or otherwise of the donor. In these families no father will be present.

There is very little information about DI available for lesbian couples. In addition, the search for

information about other possible solutions to resolve their social infertility can be laborious.

Lesbian couples must make a choice: donor insemination in a clinical setting with an anonymous

donor or with an identity-release yes donor; self-insemination with a known donor or self-

insemination with a man who will also father the child, and, finally, adoption. Although sexual
intercourse is often suggested by the social environment as an option for lesbian women, for the

majority of the couples it is not an acceptable solution because it is considered as a threat to the

partner relationship and because it does not respect their couple identity. Furthermore, a decision

has also to be made about who is going to be pregnant and, if both women wish to become

pregnant, who is going to begin with the treatment. These important decisions have an impact on

their future family functioning, family concept and parental roles. Couples have to decide how

they are going to present their family: as a two mother unit, as a biological mother with a partner

who shares the parental responsibility over the child, or as a single mother with a partner who is

less involved in child raising. Counselling should focus upon the different solutions in order to

give the necessary information to lesbian couples to make a well-informed decision, even if the

fertility centre provides treatment only with anonymous donors.

Moreover, for these couples there is no clear-cut family concept and parental roles are not de-

fined as they are in heterosexual couples. This gives lesbian couples the freedom to construct

their own family structure but also generates also uncertainty about how to share parental roles

and about the responsibility towards the child. The importance of the partners parental role is

not always recognised by the social and family environment. The role of the partner is often

denied because of the lack of a biological tie. Moreover, it is not possible to create a legal affilia-

tion between the child and the female co-parent in most countries.

Because of their homosexuality, the social environment will react differently to the lesbian

couples wish for a child and to their family once the child is born. Lesbian couples and their

children can, and probably will, be confronted with homophobic reactions. The majority of

lesbian couples fear the childs confrontation with the negative reactions of the social environ-

ment and are afraid that the child will be stigmatised because of the homosexual nature of the

relationship of its parents.


Objectives include:
Informing lesbian couple about the medical aspects of the treatment. Often their visit is also

an introduction to a medical setting and they underestimate the treatment and the conse-

quences of the treatment upon their everyday life.

Informing the lesbian couple on the different options to fulfil their wish for a child. Assessing

if an anonymous donor is acceptable. Counselling should focus on the consequences of the

use of anonymous donor for themselves, the child and the family.

Informing the lesbian couple on disclosure of issues such as homosexuality and the use of DI

and counsel them about how to inform their child.

Counselling them on how to integrate the child into their family and their social environment,

and help them to deal with their fear of negative reactions. The integration of the child sup-

poses that their parents reveal their sexual orientation (coming out) to family and friends. A

particular focus should be on the integration into the family who will not have a genetic tie

with the child.

Helping them to construct their family structure and to share parental responsibility. Discuss-

ing the assignment of parenting roles. Helping the couple to secure the position of the non-

biological mother towards the social environment (who is frequently an invisible and denied

parent). Discussing the legal implications for the non-biological mother.

Counselling them on the consequences of the absence of a father in their type of family.

Encouraging them to express their uncertainties about whether or not they are doing the

right thing.

Helping them to cope with their anxiety of stigmatisation of their child.

<A>Typical issues

The majority of the lesbian women have been confronted with homophobic reactions in relation

to their own homosexuality and to their relationship, but also to their wish for a child. Often this

results in a long period where partners contemplate the implications and social acceptability of

raising a child in their family considering all the possible (negative) consequences this might

have for their child. Sometimes couples need to be reassured about the legitimacy of their desire

for a child.
Some homosexual women might believe that hiding their homosexuality and their relationship

increases their chances to be accepted for treatment. They need to be reassured about the accept-

ability of their request in order to be open about their homosexuality.

Counsellors should be aware that attitude towards homosexuality and their own sexual identity

might influence the counselling.


Brewaeys, A. (1997). Donor Insemination. Family Relationships and Child Development in

Lesbian and Heterosexual Families. ALL IN: B. V. Katwijk, Netherlands.
Jacky Boivin


Recent sociodemographic changes have meant that donor insemination (DI) is increasingly used

in cases of social infertility where conception is prevented by the persons social circumstances

rather than their medical status. Single women without partners fall into this category and will be

the subject of this section.1

In the past single women who wished to conceive without a partner would have had unprotected

intercourse with an unsuspecting man or would have enlisted the help of a co-operative male

friend. While in many cultures this remains the most common way for single women to con-

ceive, there is an increasing trend in other countries (such as the United Kingdom) to use clinic-

based insemination. This method of child-bearing is becoming more acceptable as it reduces the

risk of infection (e.g. HIV, hepatitis) and demarcates clearly the legal rights of the mother and

sperm donor.


The way in which single women will be helped through the decision-making and preparation

process for conception and parenting will be similar to the way couples are prepared for DI (see

section 5.1). Common issues include discussing expectations for treatment (success, failure),

examining psychiatric history, advantages and disadvantages of DI versus adoption and so on.

However, counselling with single women should also accomplish the following objectives.

<B>Coping with the unfulfilled wish to parent a child with a loved partner

An important aspect of positive adjustment during and after the transition to parenthood for

single women is the need to come to terms with the unfulfilled wish to parent in the traditional

way. Research suggests that single women tend to seek treatment at the point in their reproduc-

tive years when they need either to forego parenthood or choose an alternative which does not

require an intimate partner. While they choose reproductive services most (90%) women would

actually prefer to have a family with a partner and most have taken at least one year to resolve

emotional issues related to choosing to become a single parent (Leiblum et al., 1995). The extent

to which single women accomplish this working through may be an important determinant of

readiness for DI.

<B>Discussion of social and economic factors involved in becoming a single parent

Most single women report that family and friends are supportive and have positive reactions to

their decision to use DI. However, single mothers receive less practical and emotional support

from peers and family when children are growing up. This is an important finding, as social

support is a key factor predicting later adjustment in children. The quality of the social network

is also important for its ability to provide practical support. Despite their generally high employ-

ment status (e.g. as managers or professionals), single women nevertheless work more hours per

week and therefore need to be away from the home longer to meet economic needs. In this

context, relationships with family and friends may be a more important issue to consider in

counselling with single- as compared to dual-parent patients. The social network is also impor-

tant to ensure the child has other adults and role models with whom they can interact.

<B>Discussion of the effect of older age of the mother on the treatment and parenting


Single women are about five years older than other women seeking DI. About a third abandon DI

after the first one or two failed cycles. Preparing women for the reduced conception rate in older
women may provide more accurate expectations about the number of cycles needed for preg-

nancy. Age may also affect the transition to parenthood or adjustment in later life. For example,

older single women may experience more isolation from a pregnancy that is developmentally out

of phase from those of their friends than older married women who can additionally depend on

their partners. Single women who hope to have a partner in the future also need to be realistic

about the ways in which having a child at this age will limit future dating opportunities (Casey-

Jacob, 1999).

<A>Typical issues

<B>Ease of access

Single women may not be able to find a clinic within their community which will provide them

with this service. An informal poll of 69 clinics licensed for donor insemination in the UK re-

vealed that about 15% would inseminate single women unconditionally and 19% would require

prior approval by the an ethics committee, whereas 64% would not inseminate single women

under any circumstance.

<B>Psychopathology and social adjustment

Limited research is available on the psychological and emotional adjustment of single women

using fertility services. The majority of studies with women accepted for DI treatment show that

single women are well adjusted.

However, the research base also suggests that a proportion of single women will be refused

treatment on the grounds of psychopathology or poor social adjustment (see, for example,

Baetens et al., 1995; Englert, 1994). Therefore pre-treatment psychological counselling should

be a necessary first step in clinics and should focus partly on identifying risk factors that may

compromise the treatment experience and/or future welfare of the child (see Baetens et al., 1995

for details).
<A>Communication skills

All skills involved in counselling are required.


Baetens, P., Ponjaert-Kristoffersen, I., Devroey, P. and van Steirteghem, A. C. (1995). Artificial

insemination by donor. An alternative for single women. Hum. Reprod., 10, 15371542.

Casey-Jacob, M. (1999). Concerns of single women and lesbian couples considering conception

through assisted reproduction. In: Hammer Burns, L. and Covington, S. N. (eds.), Infer-

tility Counseling. A Comprehensive Handbook for Clinicians (pp. 267-282). Parthenon,

London and New York.

Englert, T. (1994). Artificial insemination of single women and lesbian women with donor

semen. Human Reproduction, 9, 1972-1976.

Leiblum, S.R., Palmer, M.G. & Spector, I.P. (1995). Non-traditional mothers: single hetero-

sexual/lesbian women and lesbian couples electing motherhood via donor insemination.

J. Psychosom. Obstet. Gynecol., 16, 11-20.

Weinraub, M. and Wolf, B. M. (1983). Effects of stress and social supports on motherchild

interactions in single- and two-parent families. Child Development, 54, 12971311.

Jacky Boivin


Additional or adjunct psychosocial services are those interventions which coexist with counsel-

ling to increase the availability of psychosocial information in fertility clinics. The most fre-

quently provided adjunct services are written information and telephone counselling.


The purpose of adjuncts is to ensure that an adequate amount of psychosocial information is

available to all patients, including those who would not access such information through contact

with clinic staff or specialised counsellors. Different types of adjuncts fulfil different functions.

<B>Preparatory (written or videotaped) information

Preparatory psychological information provides an account of upcoming event(s) in the experi-

ential process related to a particular condition. Preparatory information can focus on any dimen-

sion of the experiential process, including physical, emotional, psychological or social aspects.

Information can be very concrete (e.g. step-by-step description of oocyte retrieval) or very

abstract (e.g. description of feelings of loss), and can be provided in different formats (e.g.

written, videotaped). While patients reactions to the infertility process can be expected to be

idiosyncratic, the consistency in the types of reactions reported across different studies also

highlight many predictable elements. Such information can therefore be used to better prepare

patients for what to expect at different points in the experiential process.

<B>Telephone counselling

Several infertility associations now offer members access to free counselling services over the

telephone. Such services were developed to provide patients with an opportunity to discuss their

feelings anonymously. However, monitoring of such services has revealed that patients use the

service primarily to clarify aspects of their medical treatment and/or to discuss other medical

issues. That being said, about 15% of patients also use the service to talk about the way treatment

is affecting them on a personal level (Bartlam et al., 1999).


Adjuncts are used to augment psychosocial services available to the patient. Adjunct services can

have many advantages. They are

cost effective: easily and inexpensively distributed to all patients;

easy access: information can be accessed at any time it is needed;

informative: more information can be included than would be absorbed during any given

consultation; and

useful: they can fulfil key support needs (e.g. information, normalisation) and can be shared

with spouse, family and friends.

Only a few studies have evaluated the effectiveness of written and/or videotaped information

with infertile patients. However, these studies suggest that such information can be beneficial for

patients, especially when the information is specific to ongoing experiences (Wallace, 1985;

Takefman et al., 1990). Similarly, evaluations of telephone counselling have shown that it is used

to full capacity (Bartlam et al., 1999).

<A>Typical issues

The psychosocial information patients want is not available. Patients seem to want detailed

emotional and coping information about the reactions they might experience in a given situation
and the ways of coping with them. While much written information exists documenting general

reactions to infertility, there is less which provides psychosocial information that is specific to

particular treatments (e.g. in-vitro fertilisation, insemination).

A related problem is that much of the written documentation available has been sponsored and/or

developed by pharmaceutical companies who have a vested interest in promoting the use of their

own products and/or the use of fertility treatments which depend on their products. This bias

may have an impact on the success rates quoted, the side-effects described and the best treatment

options selected.

The information is available but the patients are unable to understand it because it is poorly

written or presented. Patients should be consulted when information is developed to ensure that

information meets the individuals needs and that it does so in a clear and comprehensible way.

Patients who do not see themselves in the general description provided may feel excluded and/or

atypical, which may have negative consequences. Therefore whenever information is provided

to patients, it is important they be told about the average quality of such information.

Adjunct services are used in lieu of in-house services. Adjuncts should not replace contact with


<A>Communication skills

Information should be presented in a clear way and medical staff should ensure that patients

understand the content of any information. Telephone counsellors should have received some

training in the use of this service. In some countries telephone counsellors must have received

the same training as counsellors which would be consulted in person. However, in other coun-

tries telephone counsellors may be other infertility patients and/or people who have received

only a minimal amount of training. Such telephone counsellors should recognise their limita-

tions and be able to refer patients to fully licensed counsellors when necessary.

Bartlam, B. and McLeod, J. (1999). Infertility counselling: The issue experience of setting up a

telephone counselling service. Patient Education and Counselling, 1,

Boivin, J. (1997). Is there too much emphasis on psychosocial counselling for the infertile pa-

tient. J. Assisted. Reprod. Genetics, 14, 184186. [[YY NU]]

Bombadieri, M. A. and Clapp, D. (1984). Easing stress for IVF patients and staff. Contemp.

Obstet. Gynecol., 24, 9197. [[YY NU]]

Hernon, M., Harris, C. P., Elstein, M., Russell, C. A. and Seif, M. W. (1995). Review of organ-

ised support network for infertility patients in licensed units in the UK. Hum. Reprod.,

10, 960964. [[YY NU]]

Takefman, J. E., Brender, W., Boivin, J. and Tulandi, T. (1990). Sexual and emotional adjustment

of couples undergoing infertility investigation and the effectiveness of preparatory infor-

mation. J. Psychosom. Obstet. Gynaecol., 11, 275290.

Wallace, L. M. (1985). Psychological adjustment to and recovery from laparoscopic sterilisation

and infertility investigation. J. Psychonomic Res., 29, 507518.

Petra Thorn


Self-help groups and patient organisations have been active since the 1970s in the area of as-

sisted human reproduction (AHR) (Shapiro, 1998). In this section the term self-help group will

be used for support groups organised by lay individuals experiencing infertility. These are local

groups which may function independently from any other organisation, or which may belong to a

larger consumer organisation serving as an umbrella organisation. The term consumer organisa-

tion defines national and international organisations founded by a network of self-help groups in

order to provide support and information on a national and international level, to raise public

awareness on infertility issues and to exert political influence (such as Resolve in the USA, Issue

in the UK, Wunschkind in Germany and IFIPA on an international level).

This section focuses mainly on the structure, aims and challenges of self-help groups, as it is

these self-help groups that provide direct and personal support. Therefore, in a day-to-day coun-

selling context, they play a more important role than consumer organisations.


Self-help groups are organised by lay people and take on many different forms. Most groups

provide regular meetings which anyone can attend. These meetings may take place as often as

once a week or as rarely as once every two months. There is one member who serves as a contact

person but this role may well be, like any others in a group, a responsibility rotating among

members. Self-help groups are usually free of charge, though sometimes a nominal fee towards

the rental of a room or provision for refreshments during meetings is requested. All three aspects

i.e. the lay character and uncomplicated method of establishing contact to a group as well as

the low costs involved signify a low threshold in joining these groups. In addition, due to the

absence of a professional counsellor, members may not feel pathologised or psychologically

stigmatised when attending a self-help group.


There are several important functions of self-help groups that help infertile patients to cope

better with the crisis of infertility on both a cognitive and an emotional level.

New members usually join asking for information on medical treatment and on the physical as

well as psychological implications of such treatments. The information given by the medical

profession is often considered to be insufficient or too technical, and in many cases patients do

not have the courage to request more detailed facts before starting treatment. Having the oppor-

tunity to listen to and learn from patients who have gone through several treatment cycles of

AHR about their experiences, their coping mechanisms and their decisions taken for or against

future treatment can inform others about the technical aspects and raise awareness about psycho-

logical issues. Most patients find it easier to ask detailed questions in a personal environment

such as this than at the doctors office.

During treatment, self-help groups provide support and exchange. Sharing emotional responses

after failed treatment, such as depressive reactions and lack of self-esteem, has a cathartic and

normalising effect, while exchanging coping strategies increases knowledge about different

coping styles. Members usually feel that both are easier in a setting with others who have experi-

enced similar problems, and that such a setting quickly generates open communication about

these personal aspects.

After treatment has failed or patients have decided against (further) treatment, they have the

opportunity to share the grieving process and discuss options about child-free living.


The main aims of self-help groups and organisations is to empower patients and to increase their

autonomy. On an organisational level, these aims are achieved by increasing public awareness,
by influencing political decisions and by actively seeking contact with relevant professions to

facilitate co-operation. On an individual level these aims are achieved by the very nature of self-

help groups. As these groups help themselves, as there is no facilitator organising the group and

assuming responsibility for the topics discussed during meetings, members are motivated to

assume these tasks themselves and thus become active. This can be an important step towards

coping better with the feeling of powerlessness a typical problem associated with infertility.

Self-help groups are not set up to provide therapeutic counselling but members can become

aware of their individual difficulties and may be motivated to seek help from a counsellor.

<A>Typical issues

There are many inherent problems and challenges self-help groups face, especially at the forma-

tion stage of a group when all members are inexperienced in organisational issues and group

dynamics. The main problems are:

Recruiting members: this is a vital issue at the beginning of a self-help group. It may take

some time before physicians and other relevant professionals become aware of the existence

of a self-help group and recommend it; in the period before this has been achieved, groups

may dissolve. Public awareness and contact with physicians and other relevant organisations
or institutions are vital for self-help groups to become known and ensure a influx of new


Continuity of participation: due to the informal structure there is a lack of commitment,

which may be frustrating for those who wish to share intimate issues such as partnership

problems or sexuality. Often, it is possible to talk freely about these sensitive issues only if

the composition of the group is stable for a certain number of meetings.

Group members may seek only factual information and, after having received it, decide

against further participation. In addition to reducing number of participants in the group, this

approach to group participation can have a negative effect on motivation since it goes against

the self-help ethos which is to receive and later give to others.

Heterogeneous composition of a group: there is no one selecting potential members accord-

ing to their suitability. As a result there may be frustration about the differing levels of in-

volvement and contrasting aims.

Leadership: the group is usually initiated by an individual who is looking for support from

and exchange with like-minded people. This person very easily retains this leadership role

although s/he may not wish to continue this responsibility; ideally it should be shared among


Lack of exploration of emotional issues: giving and receiving information and sharing prob-

lems may remain on a purely factual level. Members therefore voice concern about discuss-

ing medical facts only and not being able to address underlying emotional and personal


Collaboration with the medical profession: the self-help movement initially constituted a

counter-movement to patriarchal relationships in society. It therefore often met with

incomprehension and rejection by professionals. Although this attitude has changed, to a

large degree and in many countries a fruitful collaboration between self-help groups, patient

organisations, professionals and pharmaceutical companies has developed, in some cases

there are still reservations and thus professionals only reluctantly seek co-operation with or

provide information on self-help groups and organisations to their patients.

Conflict of interest between the needs of the organisation sponsoring the self-help group and

the members of the group. The organisation sponsoring the self-help group may have the

expectation that their perspective on fertility related issues will be promoted. For example,

pharmaceutical companies may expect that the self-group will promote treatment rather than

child-free living, directors of fertility clinics may expect that members of the group will go to

their clinic for treatment and so on.

<A>Communication skills

Group members should be willing to organise and run a meeting, and to ensure a rotation system

for key positions in the group, as well as to establish and maintain communication and contact

with professionals and others in fields relevant to their issues. They should also be aware of the

limitations of self-help groups and suggest other forms of support (e.g. facilitated support
groups, counselling) to those members who do not benefit from self-help. Seeking and continu-

ing active collaboration with medical and psychosocial experts for example, by organising

information evenings on particular aspects of infertility may help to increase public awareness

of self-help groups and to ensure that patients new to infertility treatment learn about this option.

Self-help groups are an ideal form of support for those who show reservations about counselling



Shapiro, Constance-Hoenk (1999). Group counseling. In: Hammer Burns, L. and Covington, S.

N. (eds.), Infertility Counseling. A Comprehensive Handbook for Clinicians (pp. 117

127). Parthenon, London and New York.

Petra Thorn


This section addresses professionally facilitated groups. These groups are also referred to as

support or therapeutic groups. The professional facilitator can be a social worker, counsellor,

psychotherapist or psychologist. Facilitators are referred to herein as counsellors, independent

of any professional background. In some cases, counsellors are connected to fertility clinics i.e.

they are employed by the clinic, or there is some form of collaboration between the counsellor

and the clinic. In other cases, counsellors work in private practice or are employed by other

institutions, and therefore provide infertility counselling along with other types of counselling.


There are many different ways facilitated support groups can be organised and structured. The

options range from open-ended groups meeting at various frequencies to one-off weekend

groups, from single-sex to couple groups, from open to closed groups and from groups open to

all issues related to infertility to groups tailored to particular interests, such as donor insemina-

tion, treatment with donor egg/sperm or secondary infertility. In most cases, a fee is charged for

attending these groups.


As in other types of group settings, information, support and exchange about infertility issues

among group members are important elements. In addition, in facilitated support groups the

counsellor is responsible for the organisation and structuring of the group, as well as for applying

her/his professional knowledge and experience to influence group dynamics for the benefit of its

members. Psychoeducative methods may be used to give information on and explore the impli-
cations of certain treatment options. Interactional techniques such as role play or communication

exercises help to enhance relationships both within and outside the group setting. Exploratory

and analytical approaches can be used to understand intrapersonal and biographical issues and to

improve coping skills, as well as to further personal growth. Although there is a difference be-

tween support groups focusing on current issues and therapeutic groups with a predominant

focus on biographical or long-standing issues, in reality these overlap and a mixed approach is

often used.


Facilitated support groups focusing on infertility not only inform and educate about infertility

issues but also explore underlying intra- and interpersonal issues, as do other therapeutic groups.

In connection with infertility, these range from

alleviating the isolation often associated with infertility;

providing emotional support before, during and after treatment;

reducing stress and anxiety levels;

improving self-esteem;

exploring the emotional repercussions of infertility and attitudes related to pregnancy, child-

birth and parenthood;

becoming knowledgeable about the social and legal aspects of building a family by donor egg

and/or sperm, by surrogacy or by adoption, and considering the implications for all parties

involved; and

coming to terms with failure of treatment and facing the prospect of a life without children

(Wheeler, 1998).

Additional aims are to address marital issues such as different coping styles and sexual dysfunc-

tion and to explore family-of-origin issues which often arise during the infertility crisis.

There are many therapeutic advantages unique to groups. Infertility is often shrouded in secrecy
and associated with shame and personal inadequacy. Having the opportunity to be part of a group

with members facing the similar problems, sharing painful and confusing issues, as well as

feelings of stigmatisation (often in the case of treatment with donor egg, sperm or embryo) is

considered a tremendous relief (Wheeler, 1998). In this sense, group work breaks down social

isolation and has a normalising effect (Thorn, 1998).

<A>Typical issues

Despite these advantages, there are certain typical problems associated with group work.

Counsellors have to determine whether an assessment procedure is carried out with potential

participants, whether to screen out candidates with mental health disorders, (i.e. paranoia,

suicidal tendencies, severe depression etc), drug addiction or whether orientation interviews

are sufficient for both the counsellor and potential members. To a large degree, these deci-

sions determine the group culture.

Recruitment of sufficient participants may be difficult. Counsellors may therefore decide to

accept any applicant.

Problems during the life of a group include members getting pregnant and issues of confiden-

tiality as well as absenteeism or being late for sessions.

The gender of the facilitator can have an impact on the group dynamics and therefore this has

to be considered.

<A>Communication skills

As a minimum, counsellors should have a degree in a mental health profession. Many counsel-

lors have completed counselling or therapy training and have knowledge about the physical and

psychological aspects of infertility (Qualification Guidelines for Mental Health Professionals in

Reproductive Medicine, 1999).

A mainstream model of work with groups includes the counsellor

helping members to develop a system of mutual aid;

understanding, valuing and respecting group processes as powerful dynamics for change; and

helping members to become empowered to function autonomously both within and outside

the group (Shapiro, 1998).

Counsellors therefore need a variety of communicative and professional skills, ranging from

competence in facilitating groups to a knowledge of various therapy/counselling schools, which

may also include an understanding of body/mind approaches such as relaxation and visualisation



Shapiro, Constance Hoenk (1998). Group counseling. In: Hammer Burns, L. and Covington, S.

N. (eds.), Infertility Counselling. A Comprehensive Handbook for Clinicians (pp. 117

127). Parthenon, London and New York.

Qualifications Guidelines for Mental Health Professionals in Reproductive Medicine (1999). In:

Hammer-Burns, L. and Covington, S.N. (eds), Infertility Counseling. A Comprehensive

Handbook for Clinicians (pp. 529-530). Parthenon, London and New York.

Thorn, P. (1998). Was bedeutet es, kinderfrei zu sein? Angeleitete Gesprchsgruppen bei

unerflltem Kinderwunsch. In: Forum: Frau und Gesellschaft, 1, 1017.

Wheeler, M. (1998). A Creative Approach to Group Work for Women with Fertility Problems.

British Infertility Counselling Association, BICA Practice Guide, Sheffield.


Fertility clinics should aim to address the psychosocial and emotional needs of their patients.

This aim can be achieved by ensuring that psychosocial care is provided throughout the treat-

ment experience. These Guidelines show how patient-centered counselling can be integrated into

the day-to-day activities of the medical team and how professional counselling can be used to

meet any extraordinary patient need. The basic aim of any counselling (whether patient-centered

or professional) is to ensure that patients understand the implications of their treatment choice,

receive sufficient emotional support and can cope in a healthy way with the consequences of the

infertility experience. A more holistic approach to patient care is believed to improve health

outcomes, increase patient and team satisfaction, reduce negative psychosocial reactions and

help patients better come to terms with their experiences.

The infertility medical experience can be thought of as a 10-step recurrent cycle which the

patient can enter, exit and re-enter at any point. The process begins with the initiation of the

therapeutic relationship and ends with the outcome and evaluation of a given treatment. Each

step in the cycle will have a purpose and a set of objectives and each step will present typical

issues and will require specific communication skills. These aspects of the consultation can also

be addressed from a psychosocial perspective. Indeed the team should be prepared to provide

psychosocial care at each step of the cycle. For example, the purpose of the first meeting with

patients is to provide a helpful and competent environment, with the objectives being to ensure

that patients feel understood, respected and reassured. The communication skills involved at this

stage might be as basic as remembering who the patient is (e.g. their names, professions) or as

complex as detecting the negative feelings patients may wish to express (e.g. shame, frustration)

but feel unable or embarrassed to do. Some of the typical problems encountered in a first meet-

ing are that the team environment does not allow patients to overcome feelings of embarrassment

and shame, or that it treats the patient anonymously. This example illustrates how psychosocial

care can be integrated in the first step of the cycle, that is the initial meeting. The Guidelines
describe how such patient-centered care can be integrated in other steps of the medical process

(e.g., considering treatment options, evaluating treatment outcome).

The physician plays an important part in ensuring that psychosocial care is integrated into patient

care through his/her relationship to the patient as well as the entire team. Depending on past

training physicians can also be involved in the counselling of infertility patients though for the

most part physicians will refer patients to mental health professionals for this aspect of their

treatment experience.

The nature of psychosocial care will vary from clinic to clinic depending on the countrys legal

and social framework. Despite these potential sources of differences, it is possible to identify two

broad types of psychosocial care which have been the subject of discussion. Patient-centered

care is the psychosocial care provided as part of routine services at the clinic. Counselling, on

the other hand, involves the use of psychological interventions based on specific theoretical

frameworks. Whereas patient-centered care is expected from all members of the medical team at

all times, counselling is typically delivered by a qualified mental health professional. It is impor-

tant to have both types of care available.

Patient-centered care will vary from answering questions to providing support after distressing
events such as a negative pregnancy test. Clinics can increase their overall level of patient-

centered care by providing other non-professional services which may be useful to patients. For

example, patients generally want and appreciate emotional and coping information provided in a

take-home format (e.g. written material, videotape). Such information can be used when needed

and can be shared with other people in the patients social network. Take-home information can

also be translated into other languages, helping to provide basic medical and psychological

information to migrant populations who often form an important segment of large urban clinics.

Other interventions which have shown promise are infertility-specific telephone counselling

services which may be appealing because of their anonymity and easy accessibility. One such

hotline was used 100% of the time it was available. Self-help groups can also be an important

source of support and information through the cathartic and normalising opportunities they
provide. The more well-established national and international infertility self-help organisations

also lobby governmental and medical bodies to ensure better patient care and services. Clinics

should have available the contact details of counselling hotlines and self-help groups and can

help to maintain these services through sponsorship and other activities.

Counselling, on the other hand, aims to address the extraordinary needs of some patients. Coun-

selling might include individual and couple therapy and/or professionally facilitated support

groups. The content of counselling may differ depending on the patient and the treatment choice

but will usually involve at least some form of information and implication counselling, support

or therapeutic counselling. Information and implication counselling might focus on ensuring

that individuals understand the different psychosocial issues involved in their treatment choice

whereas therapeutic counselling might involve an understanding of the emotional consequences

of childlessness. A key difference between patient-centered care and counselling is the counsel-

lors level of training. Guidance concerning qualifications for counsellors working with infertile

people has been provided by different organisations and/or governmental bodies. While an

agreed set of criteria for who should counsel has yet to emerge, at the minimum counsellors

should have received training in one of the mental health professions (e.g., psychology, social

work, counselling) as well as training in the medical aspects of reproduction. As noted previ-

ously, all staff can and should provide patient-centered care but only professionally trained

individuals can provide counselling.

The Guidelines describe some of the practical issues which need to be addressed between coun-

sellors and the team with whom they work. For example, whether the counsellor will be in-

volved in the assessment and/or screening of patients for treatment and whether counsellors will

work independently or within the clinic environment. Other issues may arise when, for example,

the treating physician is also providing the counselling.

A review of the literature identifies three populations who might benefit from and/or require

counselling. The first group represent the majority of patients seen by the counsellor patients

who experience very high levels of distress. The distress may be manifested in different ways
(e.g. depression, anxiety) but is generally perceived by the patient as being overwhelming and

difficult to manage. While highly distressed patients form an important proportion of those using

professional counselling, they make up only about 20% of all infertility patients. The purpose

and objective of counselling in such cases will vary depending on the source of distress.

The Guidelines describe some of the personal characteristics that may place someone at risk for

high distress (e.g. pre-existing depression) and some of the situations that may trigger high

distress (e.g. failed treatment, foetal reduction). The Guidelines also describe how certain aspects

of the patient(s) life may be more vulnerable to the negative effects of infertility. For example,

while infertility tends to strengthen communication and commitment within the marital relation-

ship, it can have detrimental effects on the couples sexual relationship. Regardless of the source

or trigger for distress, the primary task of the counsellor in situations of high distress is to pro-

vide a supportive and reassuring environment in which such distress can be expressed and its

causes explored. Identifying new ways of managing distress and breaking down unhealthy

coping patterns should also be a focus of therapeutic work.

The second group of patients who use counselling are those couples requiring donated gametes,

surrogacy and/or adoption to achieve parenthood. So-called third-party reproduction is thought

to provoke psychological and emotional issues that go beyond the counselling issues involved in

treatments not requiring a third party. There are several key counselling issues involved with

this group of patients. One such issue is concerned with the amount of disclosure the individual

and/or couple are prepared to make concerning their use of donated gametes. The questions of

whether family and friends will be informed and whether the child will ultimately be told of his/

her origins need to be explored before treatment. For those who opt for an open relationship, it is

necessary to discuss how best to talk to children about their biological origins and how best to

handle the childs reactions to the parents treatment choice. Counselling also addresses the fact

that only one parent will be genetically related to the child. All recipients of donated gametes

should also have had the opportunity to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using

known or anonymous donors. When known donors are used, counselling must address how

donation will impact on the dynamics of the social environment of the recipient, especially when
the donor is a close friend or family member.

Another issue in third party reproduction is whether donors themselves need counselling to

decide whether to proceed with donation. Donors should be informed of the clinic policy con-

cerning privacy and concerning whether it accepts single or homosexual patients before deciding

whether to donate. In embryo and oocyte donation the donor must undergo invasive treatment to

be able to donate. As a result most donors are infertile women who would have had the medical

procedures anyway or very close family and friends willing to subject themselves to these proce-

dures because of their relationship to the recipient (e.g. sister). In these circumstances counsel-

ling must ensure there was no undue pressure on the donor (e.g. familial or financial pressure)

and ensure a clear understanding of health risks. Infertile women donating through egg-share

programmes need to prepare emotionally for the possibility that the recipient of their oocytes

becomes pregnant but they do not.

A final group of patients who benefit from counselling are those who seek fertility services

because of their social circumstances rather than their medical status. Single and lesbian women

who use donated sperm or gay men who use surrogacy fall in this category. While these indi-

viduals will also face the general issues discussed previously, they also face other issues which

are specific to social infertility. Most single women using fertility services do so because they

want children but do not have a suitable partner by the time they reach the end of their reproduc-

tive years. Some of the issues which will be relevant to single women are coming to terms with

the unfulfilled wish to parent in the traditional way and the social and financial disadvantages of

becoming a single parent. The issues faced by lesbian users of fertility services are similar to

those of heterosexual couples, as most lesbians choose to become parents within a stable partner-

ship. Additionally, the could must decide who becomes pregnant as well as discuss parental roles

and the integration of the co-parent into the social environment. For both single and lesbian users

of fertility services, there are the childs reactions to their life choices and the possible negative

reactions others may have to the child (e.g. being intentionally fatherless, homophobia) to be

considered. Treatment availability for social infertility is still relatively rare and few clinics make

this option unconditionally available to individuals; some form of assessment is usually required.
At some point treatment ends for all patients, though the future will differ from patient to patient.

Some patients will become pregnant through treatment and, while this will be a happy and wel-

come event for most, the years of infertility will have some impact on the experience of preg-

nancy. For many patients there will be initial reluctance to believe in the reality of the pregnancy

and fear that the pregnancy will result in miscarriage or that the child will be abnormal in some

way. Most of these feelings resolve themselves over the course of the pregnancy, but the birth

may trigger yet another period of insecurity about maternal competence. Many patients will have

the additional strain of a multiple pregnancy. Patients need to be prepared for the medical and

social implications that arise from parenting two and three siblings who are at exactly the same

developmental age and who all require the same amount of nurturing and care. Other patients

will not become pregnant but will achieve their goal of parenthood through adoption. The coun-

sellor can assist patients not only to decide whether adoption is a suitable option for them but

also to help them come to terms with the unfulfilled wish for a child. The transition to parent-

hood for patients who adopt also has its special demands and these can be explored with the


For other patients the end of treatment will be simply that, the end of treatment. Many patients

decide to terminate treatment without having fulfilled their goal of parenthood. In the past pa-

tients could count on the end of the reproductive years to provide a natural endpoint to their

quest for a child. While this remains the case for most patients, advances in reproductive technol-

ogy means that some must decide to end treatment while there still remains a theoretical possibil-

ity of pregnancy. Counsellors can help patients make the transition to childlessness positively

and can help patients elaborate a new and fulfilling life plan for themselves.

The Guidelines have been discussed and written collaboratively with individuals from many
countries. It is hoped this team effort has generated a set of Guidelines which encompass the
psychosocial issues faced by infertile couples and the way in which counsellors from different
countries can address them. The Guidelines are intended for both medical staff and mental
health professionals and it is hoped that information contained therein will help both groups to
maintain good practice with regard to psychosocial care for infertile couples. Naturally the
Guidelines will require revision as new issues emerge and/or some issues become more or less
important. Already some topics, for example preimplantation genetic diagnosis which were
excluded in this version are planned for the revision of the Guidelines. It is also hoped that the
Guidelines can be revised in light of feedback from the community of mental health profession-
als working with infertile people.

Single women is used throughout this text to refer to single women without partners.